South Africa

ANALYSIS

Out of power, Jacob Zuma still remains Mr Stalingrad

Out of power, Jacob Zuma still remains Mr Stalingrad
Former president Jacob Zuma (Greg Nicolson for Daily Maverick)

Jacob Zuma may no longer be president, but he surely isn’t giving up his litigation tactics that saw him evade his day in court for 10 years. This is mostly because it appears to be the only remaining card in his seriously depleted deck.

Former president Jacob Zuma remains intent on employing a “Stalingrad litigation strategy” despite the legal noose now becoming rather firm around his neck.

In April, when Zuma appeared in court on the 16 charges of fraud, corruption, money laundering and racketeering, his lawyers asked the court for a postponement – which the court granted for June 8. One of the reasons cited for the postponement of the criminal case in the Durban High Court was that he had a pending legal costs case brought by the Democratic Alliance.

The DA wants the court to review the costs paid for Zuma’s personal legal fees from as early as 2004 when he was deputy president of the country.

It has been difficult to quantify what Zuma’s criminal case and his related efforts to evade justice cost the taxpayer. So far, the tally of Zuma’s Stalingrad litigation strategy sits at about R32.4-million but that is far from the actual costs.

Just his legal challenge to an effort by the DA to have the court overturn a decision by former National Director of Public Prosecutions Mokotedi Mpshe to withdraw charges against him cost the state upwards of R15.3-million.

But after all that, Zuma still faces those charges and with a lingering problem: he is no longer head of state.

Which begs the question: why is he using the same stall and delay tactics which could (if the DA is successful) end up costing him his pension until his dying days?

On Monday, the DA approached the High Court in Pretoria where it submitted supplementary papers to its legal costs case. This was warranted after Zuma and the state lawyers responded to a request for documents to be filed to the record by submitting incomplete, missing and at times illegible documents.

These documents are important, not publicly accessible, and necessary for the DA to build a solid case before the court. For example, documents with the ad hoc costs of the legal fees have been excluded from the record. But while the incomplete and defective record is at worst annoying for the DA, why should we care?

This is where things become interesting.

The DA has argued in the court papers that this has the potential of delaying this case and, as a result, delay the criminal trial in Durban.

Can you see where this is going?

“Mr Zuma clearly remains intent on employing his Stalingrad litigation strategy. Mr Zuma has indicated his intention to institute an application to review the decision of the National Director of Public Prosecutions to reinstate the charges against Mr Zuma and to stay the prosecution,” the DA’s James Selfe says in an affidavit.

In other words, Zuma is using any legal fodder as a tool to buy more time. It is an old tactic we have seen over and over again in different courtrooms around the country. One would think that now that he is no longer president, he would want this chapter closed.

On the implications of this, Selfe said: “This may involve expending further public funds on Mr Zuma’s behalf.”

Ironically, if this case is not speedily resolved, a case that is meant to save taxpayers’ money would end up costing more.

The National Prosecuting Authority and the state in general cannot afford another decade-long fight for Zuma to be tried.

The alleged crime itself is almost as old as South Africa’s democracy and it has been close to two decades since it was investigated.

At the same time, Zuma knows that the decision that the state bear the costs of his private legal defence in his criminal case is murky and the chance that he will have to repay the costs is great.

A closer look at the court papers shows that, at best, Zuma will be asked to repay the money (and this time around, there will be no VBS bank to the rescue).

The DA was methodical in making each argument, relying on documents to create a chronology of events in order to bolster their argument.

For example, they have now argued that there is no evidence that a request by Zuma for state funding for his legal expenses in 2004 was approved.

They put to the court that the state agreed to pay for a senior and junior counsel in regards to the Schabir Shaik trial and not private attorney fees (as was paid to Michael Hulley).

The DA has further argued that there is no evidence that the accounting officer in the Presidency ever approached payment of the costs of Zuma’s defence when he was charged in 2008.

They also remind Zuma that he gave an undertaking to repay the costs carried by the state if found guilty.

The court papers, at the same time, highlight how the DA is not buying government’s version that it spent R15.3-million on the Zuma criminal case.

It seems Zuma knows that there is no way out of this and now he has to play the delay card because it is the only remaining card in his depleted deck.

The last decade has taught us that Zuma’s legal delinquency will persist as long as he is allowed to do so. Which is what makes this case by the DA so important.

If President Cyril Ramaphosa and his administration want to see an end to the Zuma legal fracas, they have to close the taps. Even if that may mean co-operating with the DA in making Zuma, once and for all, #ReallyPayBackTheMoney. DM

Qaanitah Hunter is an EWN reporter.

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