Correspondence between former president Jacob Zuma’s lead counsel, Advocate Muzi Sikhakhane and his attorney Daniel Mantsha, has shed light on the possible reasons the services of the latter were terminated last week.
The email dated April 11, which was sent by Sikhakhane to Mantsha, paints a picture of cracks within the former president’s legal team.
Zuma’s team included Sikhakhane, Mantsha and Advocate Thabani Masuku and a difference in legal strategies appears to be at the centre of the dispute.
On Sunday the Jacob Zuma Foundation announced that Zuma had terminated Mantsha’s legal services. The foundation said Zuma had expressed support for his lead counsel, Sikhakhane.
In October last year, Zuma suffered a blow when his attempt to have a permanent stay in prosecution in his arms deal-related charges was denied.
In November the Pietermaritzburg High Court in KwaZulu-Natal dismissed his application for leave to appeal the earlier judgment.
Last month Zuma’s bid to appeal the decision by the Pietermaritzburg High Court that he should stand trial for corruption was again denied, this time by the Supreme Court of Appeal which ruled that the former president had no reasonable prospects of success.
The court dismissed Zuma’s attempt to challenge the high court decision that rejected his argument that the 15-year-old corruption case against him was fatally tainted by undue delay and political interference.
As a result, Zuma approached the Constitutional Court, which has resulted in the deep divisions in his lawyers over the legal strategy.
French company Thales, which is accused of paying him a bribe, has also applied to the Constitutional Court for direct access to challenge the high court’s ruling. But South Africa’s highest court has yet to make a decision on whether it will hear that case.
Zuma’s lawyers also have the option to petition the Supreme Court of Appeal to hear his appeal, but he is likely to face an uphill battle.
In his email, Sikhakhane said he had given the matter his all and was unwilling to have his hard work compromised by the incompetence of his colleagues.
“I have given everything in this matter, even without receiving fees because I believed our client deserves justice and our uttermost professionalism. I am still available to consult with him to raise these issues. I have done this case at a great expense to my professional and personal life. It is insensitive of you to conduct it in this manner. It has the effect of embarrassing the client in a matter that is truly about his life,” wrote Sikhakhane.
Zuma, who has a suspended arrest warrant hanging over his head because he failed to appear at his last court appearance citing alleged ill-health, is due back in the Pietermaritzburg High Court on May 6.
Both Mantsha and Sikhakhane were not available for comments. City Press was also unable to reach Masuku and Zuma’s spokesperson, Vukile Mathabela
In his email, Sikhakhane questions why Mantsha, while filing court papers for Zuma’s appeal at the Constitutional Court on March 26, opted to file papers drawn up by Mantsha and advocate Masuku instead of a revised version drafted by Sikhakhane “as Zuma’s lead counsel”.
“You will recall that after receiving the draft from Masuku, I indicated to you that I would rewrite the document and take into account some of the points that Masuku had raised.
“This was because his drafts kept referring to our client in the third person when he is the deponent of the affidavit. The draft appeared to me to be a very useful research document, but could not be filed as an affidavit in the apex court. I raised this with Masuku and assured him that we would use his document to prepare our written submissions,” reads the email.
The seemingly irate Sikhakhane also points to the fact that he and a colleague had “spent days working on a draft” which “was indeed sent to you [Mantsha] by my secretary on March 25,” however Mantsha decided not to use it.
Sikhakhane also says although he accepted that Mantsha was within his rights to file the papers he filed, he (Sikhakhane) as the lead counsel was now of the view that his legal judgment was being questioned.
He adds that it is his view that Mantsha and Masuku had used their own draft arguments “merely because there is a desire [by the pair] to use strong language”, which Sikhakhane is of the view, “does not assist” Zuma.
Besides not heeding his instruction, Sikhakhane also accuses Mantsha and Masuku of not doing due diligence in their drafting of their court papers as they contained “glaring errors” as well as arguments that had long been dropped by Zuma’s lawyers before even approaching the Supreme Court of Appeal.
“You will further recall that in the high court hearing, Masuku persisted in an aspect of the case which I had advised the other side that it would be abandoned. This resulted in me having to make an embarrassing retraction in an open court. Embarrassment aside, when I give an opponent an assurance I abide by that assurance,” reads Sikhakhane’s strongly worded email to Mantsha.
The lead counsel then informs Mantsha that on based on issues he has raised, he is no longer willing to argue the appeal before the Constitutional Court on Zuma’s behalf. He cites the conduct by Mantsha as affecting his “reputation as a practitioner, let alone the case of our client”.
He adds that it is not the first time the pair has crossed swords regarding legal strategy.
Sikhakhane also draws a line in the sand, informing his colleague that “going forward, if you wish to retain my services I need to make it clear I will not tolerate a situation in which decision are taken behind my back and without my approval”.
He adds that “as the lead counsel of the team, I assume ultimate responsibility for the case. Of course decisions are taken after consulting the team as a whole, but once taken, it is intolerable for them to be reversed without consulting me”.
Zuma has since replaced Mantsha with lawyer Eric Mabuza who has indicated that the former president’s bid to stop his corruption trial, which has driven a wedge between Sikhakhane and Mantsha, is now being reviewed.
This means Zuma could now face his day in court with no more delays. On Monday, Mabuza said a decision on the way forward would be announced soon.