Apex court ruling on Jacob Zuma hailed as 'victory for the rule of law'

29 June 2021 - 15:54
Former president Jacob Zuma during an appearance at the state capture commission. File photo.
Former president Jacob Zuma during an appearance at the state capture commission. File photo.
Image: Alon Skuy/Sunday Times

The landmark judgment by the Constitutional Court effectively sending former president Jacob Zuma to prison for 15 months has been described as a victory for the rule of law.

Reacting to the judgment, various political parties welcomed it, with the DA saying it will go a long way towards showing that no-one is above the law.

The ANC will at its national executive committee (NEC) meeting this weekend reflect on the implications.

This is the first time since democracy that a former president has been sentenced to imprisonment.

“The NEC that will take place this weekend will reflect on the implications and consequences of the judgment,” said ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe. “We further reaffirm our commitment to upholding the rule of law and fulfilling the aspirations of our constitutional democracy.”

The ANC previously failed in its attempt to convince Zuma to comply with the Constitutional Court’s earlier judgment and appealed to him on several occasions to appear before the commission of inquiry into allegations of state capture.

“You would recall that previously the national officials had met with the former president to reflect on his unwillingness to appear before the commission to deal with whatever issues he might have wanted to ventilate. So there was that engagement, the national executive committee itself has also reflected on this kind of development,” said Mabe.

“Now that there is a decision, the NEC is sitting this weekend and it will be able to reflect on the consequences and implications of this kind of decision. We indeed call on our structures, members and society at large to remain calm. We have affirmed our support for the rule of law and are really observing the development of our constitutional democracy.”

The Constitutional Court on Tuesday sent shock waves across the country, and abroad, when it found Zuma guilty of contempt of court and sentenced him to 15 months' direct imprisonment.

The apex court found that Zuma’s defiance of its earlier order ruling that he not only comply with the state capture inquiry by appearing before it, but also answer questions posed to him.

The court found that Zuma had openly defied this order and had even said in letters to the commission that he had no desire to comply. There was therefore no other option but to send him to prison to send a warning to others that the constitution cannot be openly defied, the court said.

DA leader John Steenhuisen said the judgment showed that no-one was above the law, “not even a former president who still enjoys strong support within the ruling party”.

“Mr Zuma, who has steadfastly dodged his day in court for well over a decade while claiming all the while that his day in court is all he wanted has finally started to run out of runway,” Steenhuisen said.

Zuma has to hand himself over to authorities within the next five days, failing which police minister Bheki Cele must intervene to ensure the former statesman is handed over to correctional services authorities within three days, should he not comply with the five- day deadline.

“We may have other challenges as a country right now but this judgment has struck a crucial blow for equality before the law without which no democracy can prosper,” said  Steenhuisen. “We call on Mr Zuma to co-operate with the law-enforcement agencies and to hand himself over to begin to serve the sentence.”

UDM leader Bantu Holomisa echoed the same sentiments, adding that this was a “stern warning that all South Africans should respect the courts and the laws of this country”.

The IFP, which welcomed the ruling, said it could easily have been avoided had Zuma simply complied and appeared before the commission.

“We hope that he will respect and honour this ruling, and comply with the order that he must submit himself to the police within the next five days,” IFP spokesperson Mkhuleko Hlengwa said. “The IFP further calls for calm, as we are well aware of the volatile situation at present. We implore the supporters of former president Jacob Zuma to act with restraint and accept the Constitutional Court ruling.”

ActionSA believes that further action should be taken against Zuma and called for his presidential benefits to be immediately revoked.

“It is now incumbent on President Cyril Ramaphosa to do the right thing and ensure through the appropriate processes that Zuma no longer receives any benefits from South African taxpayers. Someone who undermines the rule of law should not receive a salary from law-abiding South Africans,” said ActionSA's Herman Mashaba.

Freedom Front Plus leader Pieter Groenewald said the judgment was proof that though the wheels of justice turn slowly, this sent a message that justice will ultimately prevail.

“The world will see that SA's judiciary and constitutional democracy are standing strong and it is indeed a positive development,” Groenewald said. “The judgment sends a loud and clear message that Zuma and everyone else in SA must realise that they are not above the law and that they must respect it.”

EFF leader Julius Malema expressed gratitude to the ConCourt, "for protecting our democracy and once more proving that we are all equal before the law."

He also extended well wishes to the former President, saying the current obstacle of his imprisonment will pass.

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