Editorial | The long arm of the law

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Former president Jacob Zuma speaks to thousands of his supporters outside his homestead in Nkandla on Sunday, July 4 2021. Photo: Tebogo Letsie/City Press
Former president Jacob Zuma speaks to thousands of his supporters outside his homestead in Nkandla on Sunday, July 4 2021. Photo: Tebogo Letsie/City Press

VOICES


Leaked images of former president Jacob Zuma inside the Estcourt Correctional Centre in KwaZulu-Natal while being processed by officials were in bad taste and intended to humiliate a man already serving a 15-month prison sentence. They were completely unnecessary, but for those – and there were some – who doubted that the former strongman would actually be incarcerated, it was proof that absolutely no one is above the laws of the country.

The spectre of a 79-year-old man with health problems sitting in jail is nothing to celebrate. But we might one day look back at this as the moment a message was sent that this is no banana republic.

Much as his eventual incarceration was expected after the Constitutional Court judgment two weeks ago, it was in doubt at a certain stage whether the defiant Zuma would end up in prison after he summoned high-profile lawyers and made last-minute court applications to try to stay out of jail. There was also threats that he could never be taken in without ugly violence breaking out after his supporters converged on Nkandla and vowed that they would never allow him to be arrested.

READ: Zuma’s stay of arrest bid is dismissed with costs

The imprisonment of a former president is no easy matter, but, as the court said, the matter is self-evidently extraordinary.

“Never before has this court’s authority and legitimacy been subjected to the kinds of attacks that Zuma has elected to launch against it and its members. Never before has the judicial process been so threatened. The vigour with which Zuma is peddling his disdain of this court and the judicial process carries the further risk that he will inspire or incite others to similarly defy this court, the judicial process and the rule of law,” said Justice Sisi Khampepe on behalf of the court.

July 01.2021. A group of people who drove in a mot
A group of people who drove in a motorcade dressed in ANC regalia gathered outside Zuma's homestead in Nkandla on Thursday, July 1 2021. Photo: Tebogo Letsie

The latter is the most important point. Through this conviction and sentence, the court needed to send a message to everyone that we are a country of laws. All political leaders and their factions and supporters are free to differ, and to form and break away from political parties, but all must respect the Constitution.

READ: Lamola: Zuma will be eligible for parole in just under four months

The spectre of a 79-year-old man with health problems sitting in jail is nothing to celebrate. But we might one day look back at this as the moment a message was sent that this is no banana republic. All those abusing public trust by stealing from public coffers and undermining good governance by dishonest means must know that their day of reckoning is coming. Access to money and good lawyers is no guarantee that they will not get their comeuppance.


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