Jacob Zuma found guilty of contempt of court, sentenced to 15 months in jail

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  • The ConCourt has found former president Jacob Zuma guilty of contempt of court.
  • Zuma was handed a 15-month prison sentence.
  • The ruling came after Zuma defied the ConCourt's orders that he appear before the State Capture Inquiry.

The Constitutional Court on Tuesday found former president Jacob Zuma guilty of contempt of court and sentenced him to 15 months' imprisonment.

The apex court further ordered that Zuma pay the legal costs spent by the State Capture Inquiry in bringing the matter before the court. The costs order was made on a punitive scale.

The ruling came after Zuma defied the Constitutional Court's orders that he appear before the State Capture Inquiry and answer non-incriminating questions about his nine years in office. The inquiry then brought a contempt of court application against the former president. It argued he should be jailed for two years for his multiple acts of contempt against it, the country's highest court and the judiciary itself.

Zuma will now have five days to present himself to police in either Nkandla, his home village, or Johannesburg, before he will be taken to a correctional centre.

If Zuma fails to follow the court's order, the minister of police and the national police commissioner will have three days to take all steps "that are necessary and permissible in law to ensure that Mr Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma is delivered to a correctional centre in order to commence serving the sentence imposed".

Zuma did not participate in the inquiry's initial Constitutional Court application to compel him to testify before Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo after he walked out of the commission in November 2020. He also did not participate in the subsequent contempt case against him, nor did he comply with the court's directives that he file an affidavit detailing what sanction he believed he should face.

Instead, he wrote a letter to outgoing Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, in which he compared the Constitutional Court to the apartheid government and said he was willing to become a "prisoner of the Constitutional Court".

READ | Zuma tells Mogoeng he is 'resigned to being a prisoner of the Constitutional Court'

Delivering the court's judgment on Tuesday morning, Acting Chief Justice Sisi Khampepe, who penned the majority judgment, said there was "no doubt" that Zuma was in contempt of court.

She said the court was left with no choice but to respond when its ability to uphold the Constitution was "besieged".

"The matter is self-evidently extraordinary. It is thus in the interests of justice to depart from ordinary procedures. Never before has this Court's authority and legitimacy been subjected to the kinds of attacks that Mr Zuma has elected to launch against it and its members. Never before has the judicial process been so threatened. Accordingly, it is appropriate for this Court to exercise its jurisdiction and assert its special authority as the apex Court and ultimate guardian of the Constitution, to the exclusion of the aegis of any other court," Khampepe wrote.

She added the constitutional safeguards of the judiciary were "undermined so egregiously" and the court had to respond.

Noting Zuma's attacks on the Constitutional Court and the judiciary, the country's most senior judge (while Mogoeng is on extended leave) said never had "the authority and legitimacy of the Constitutional Court been subjected against these kinds of attacks".

"Not only is Mr Zuma's behaviour so outlandish as to warrant a disposal of ordinary procedure, but it is becoming increasingly evident that the damage being caused by his ongoing assaults on the integrity of the judicial process cannot be cured by an order down the line. It must be stopped now. Indeed, if we do not intervene immediately to send a clear message to the public that this conduct stands to be rebuked in the strongest of terms, there is a real and imminent risk that a mockery will be made of this Court and the judicial process in the eyes of the public. The vigour with which Mr 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."

OPINION | Zuma and the ConCourt: We cannot dictate to the courts

The judgment noted that Zuma's public statements defending his actions were irrelevant as he had not filed an affidavit to the court.

"Zuma, unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, squandered an opportunity to respect the rule of law in this country," Khampepe said about the 21-page letter the former president sent to the chief justice, calling it "scandalous".

Khampepe said there was "no sound or legal basis where he can claim to have been treated unfairly or victimised, and his unfounded allegations fly in the face of reason and is an insult to the constitutional dispensation which so many people have fought and died for".

The minority judgment, penned by Justice Leona Theron, agreed that Zuma was guilty of contempt, but disagreed that an order of "unsuspended commital" was fair. She said it would be unconstitutional to grant such an order if it was not aimed at securing Zuma's compliance to the initial ruling ordering him to testify.

"The second judgment concluded that depriving a contemnor of liberty without a criminal trial limits section 12 of the Constitution and that there are a host of respects in which the civil contempt procedure falls short of the protections enshrined in section 35(3)," read the Constitutional Court's media summary of the judgment.

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