Zuma judgment 'of great importance for the rule of law' - Zondo Commission

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Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo at the judicial commission of inquiry into state capture in Johannesburg.
Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo at the judicial commission of inquiry into state capture in Johannesburg.
Veli Nhlapo/Gallo Images, Sowetan
  • Former president Jacob Zuma has been found guilty of contempt of court. 
  • Zuma has been sentenced to 15 months behind bars.  
  • The Defend Our Democracy campaign welcomed the ruling.  

The State Capture Inquiry welcomed the Constitutional Court judgment which sentenced former president Jacob Zuma to 15 months behind bars.

The commission had approached the court to seek an order that Zuma was in contempt of court and should be jailed, if guilty.

"The commission views the judgment as one of great importance for the rule of law, the principle of equality before the law, the primacy of our Constitution and the protection of our constitutional democracy," said commission secretary Itumeleng Mosala.

He said it was also significant for the independence of the judiciary.

Mosala added:

In the commission's view, the judgment sends a profoundly important message to all in our country that there are serious consequences for anyone who defies summonses and orders of courts, and that such conduct will not be tolerated, no matter what the person's status is in society.

Last year, the commission laid a complaint with law enforcement agencies, following Zuma's walkout of the inquiry, in defiance of a summons issued against him. The secretary of the commission had been instructed to lay a criminal complaint against Zuma for not appearing from 18 to 22 January 2021.

Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo previously said, because Zuma had repeatedly defied the commission, his apparent contempt was serious. The Defend Our Democracy campaign also welcomed the judgment.

"Today is a great day for South Africa," said anti-apartheid activist Reverend Frank Chikane during a media briefing.

Chikane said the ruling gave the country hope.

Acting Chief Justice Sisi Khampepe ruled on Tuesday morning that Zuma was guilty of contempt of court and sentenced him to 15 months in jail.

The former president has five days to hand himself over to either the Nkandla police station or the Johannesburg Central police station.

If he fails to do so, the court ruled, Police Minister Bheki Cele and national police commissioner Khehla Sithole have three days to ensure that all the necessary steps are taken to ensure he is jailed.

READ Zuma's daughter says he will report to Nkandla police, opposition parties welcome sentence

"We [the campaign] welcome the ruling, [and] I just want to say that we do not enjoy anybody going to jail because that is not our intention, and it is unfortunate that the former president has to go to jail," Chikane said.

He said:

It [going to jail] could have been avoided by simply working within the Constitution of this country and the law. We expect that everybody, all South Africans, will comply with the laws of this country and make sure that justice is done.

Anti-apartheid activist and diplomat, Cheryl Carolus, read out the campaign's statement, saying the judgment underlined the essential principle that everyone was equal before the law.

"We call on the former president and his supporters to abide by the decision of the court. Moreover, we call on the criminal justice authority to act on the judgment and to ensure the effective implementation thereof," she said.

Freedom Under Law's Nicole Fritz described the judgment as historic, saying, "it seeks to vindicate the integrity of the Constitutional Court, and I think it is one of the judgments that we can be most proud of".

Lobby group AfriForum said the judgment was a victory for justice.

AfriForum CEO Kallie Kriel said:

There are unfortunately too many political leaders, former political leaders and government officials, who consider themselves beyond reproach and above the law, which led to the looting of state coffers and state capture in the first place.

"Although this ruling can be considered a step in the right direction, far more must still be done to call to account people who act as if they are above the law," Kriel said.

Corruption Watch said the judgment signalled a victory for the rule of law in the country.

ALSO READ| Zuma threatens to fight back if 'targeted' by the courts

"This is a historically significant moment," said the head of legal and investigations at Corruption Watch, Karam Singh.

"For the first time in South Africa, we are seeing a former head of state held directly accountable, by way of a prison sentence, for his refusal to submit himself to the commission or to the jurisdiction of the ConCourt in this matter. Indirectly, this speaks to his culpability in presiding over a period of state capture that has had lasting and damaging effects on the country."

Corruption Watch also said the judgment is "momentous as it upholds the fundamental constitutional principle that all are equal before the law".

"It will act as a substantial deterrent to those who thought nothing of making scurrilous and contemptuous statements about the Constitutional Court and the judiciary in general."

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