Judge Sisi Khampepe delivered a thunderous indictment of former president Jacob Zuma’s contempt of court on behalf of a Constitutional Court majority as she sentenced him to 15 months’ imprisonment on Tuesday, 29 June.
Zuma has five days to present himself to a police station in Nkandla or the Johannesburg Central Police Station for transfer to a correctional facility to start his sentence. If he does not do so, then she has ordered that Police Minister Bheki Cele or National Police Commissioner Khehla Sitole to take all steps to ensure he is delivered to a correctional centre.
Zuma was also ordered to pay the costs of two legal counsel of the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, which brought the contempt charges in March.
“It is the lofty and lonely work of the judiciary to uphold the Constitution at any and all cost,” said Khampepe as she delivered a blistering judgment for seven of the court’s judges. Two judges dissented in a minority judgment, arguing that a suspended sentence was the correct constitutional remedy for the former president’s failure to obey a court order to attend the commission’s hearings.
But the majority of the court disagreed. “When the constitutional safeguards are undermined so egregiously, it requires swift and effective action,” said Khampepe, as she read the judgment. “Never before has the Constitutional Court been subject to the kinds of attack launched by Mr Zuma,” the judgment said.
Zuma has been a serial delinquent at the commission of inquiry. He appeared twice but on both occasions refused to answer any of the 40 areas of interest the commission wanted to quiz him on; on the second occasion, he left before being excused by the chairperson, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, which amounted to a criminal offence in terms of the Commissions Act.
The commission laid criminal contempt charges against the former head of state, but the Hawks have made no progress in that case. When Zuma failed to appear before the commission in January, the secretary of the commission, Professor Itumeleng Mosala, appealed to the Constitutional Court, which ordered Zuma’s appearance. He ignored the order, which resulted in the contempt of court direct appeal by the commission to the ConCourt.
The judgment on 29 June was the outcome of that appeal, and the commission succeeded in its appeal for direct punitive imprisonment. It was awarded costs.
Speaking to broadcaster eNCA minutes after the ruling, Jacob Zuma Foundation spokesperson Mzwanele Manyi, described the ruling as “inconsistent”. He said judges were “cherry-picking what side of the pie is sweeter” as the judgment was not unanimous. Manyi said the judgment was a “sad day today largely because judges are saying it’s unconstitutional” – a statement he made three times. A statement would be issued in “due course” after speaking to lawyers for the former president.
Carl Niehaus, one of Zuma’s biggest supporters, tweeted after the judgment: The imprisonment of @PresJGZuma is totally unacceptable. In fact it is an utter outrage! Now it is our revolutionary democratic right and duty to register our outrage, and resistance to this, in no uncertain terms, and we will! ✊🏾
— Carl Niehaus (@niehaus_carl) June 29, 2021