Culture of impunity: One law for Zuma’s supporters and another law for the rest

Jacob Zuma addresses supporters outside his Nkandla homestead on Sunday, 4 July 2021. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

South Africa is in the midst of fighting a pandemic and our culture of impunity is catching up with us, manifesting in people not abiding by the law.

First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.

From the moment that Acting Chief Justice Sisi Khampepe handed down a judgment sentencing former president Jacob Zuma to prison for 15 months for contempt of court, South Africa was enlivened with a mixture of excitement and speculation. Would he accept the ruling and hand himself over? Would his motley crew of supporters allow the law to take its course? Would the police be bold enough to enter his Nkandla residence to take him to jail? More importantly in my mind: Would the supreme law of the land, the Constitution, continue to reign?

South Africans have been waiting for years to see the imperious former president brought to book, even if only for a meagre 15 months and despite the litany of other charges he still faces. The ConCourt was unequivocal in stating that should his contempt of court go unpunished it would undermine the rule of law.

It is not so much about the length of the sentence as it is about finally reining in a former president who was accountable to no one – not the ANC, not Parliament, not South Africans, and definitely not the Constitution to which he swore allegiance. A strong message needed to be sent that nobody is above the law and that, although the wheels of justice turn slowly, they do still turn.

Yet Zuma continued to try to evade his sentence, with supporters singing and dancing as they guarded his gates, led by his son Edward Zuma. His lawyers even lodged an urgent application in the high court in Pietermaritzburg to have the execution of the Constitutional Court order stayed.

Zuma’s supporters carried on as though they were living in an  alternate reality where there was no pandemic endangering the lives of all the actors in this macabre play. We are experiencing the third wave of the pandemic, which led to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s decision to place the country in an adjusted Level 4 lockdown.

These regulations state that all gatherings of any size are illegal (except funerals of fewer than 50 people), mask-wearing is mandatory, and there is a curfew between 9pm and 4am. Breaking these regulations is an offence punishable by a fine or jail time. All of these rules were broken by Zuma’s supporters and he did nothing to stop them.

How then does one explain the Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans’ Association (MKMVA) and other Zuma supporters camping outside his Nkandla residence and defying all these regulations, with no consequences? Surely this sends inconsistent messaging to law-abiding citizens and undermines the authority of the president?

The invocation of the Marikana massacre by Dali Mpofu in the high court, regarding the tepid response of the police to the gathered supporters, is as disingenuous as it is insulting to the memory of the slain miners and their families, who continue to suffer.

The miners were striking, a right guaranteed in the Constitution, to get a living wage from their employers. Zuma’s supporters were not only in contravention of Covid-19 regulations, endangering themselves and everyone around them, but were also “protecting” a man facing more than 700 charges of criminal acts.

Asked at 22.35pm by a reporter on the scene about the Covid-19 regulations, Edward Zuma retorted: “Curfew or no curfew, we will die for Zuma.”

An hour later Jacob Zuma hastily left his supporters behind to hand himself over to prison authorities in Estcourt, leaving them in the cold without so much as a parting word. This was the person they were willing to “die” for.

What concerns me is the symbolism behind the inconsistent application of rules and regulations by the police. Why were there no arrests made of the illegal gathering of people, and on whose command are they acting? Who do the rules apply to and when are they suspended?

Hundreds of thousands of people are being prevented from earning a living and feeding their families because of the pandemic regulations, yet at Nkandla there were people flagrantly disregarding the law. This signals that the age of impunity is still with us, because we are witnessing a selectively impotent response from those in authority.

Just last week Police Minister Bheki Cele blustered at the National Coronavirus Command Council briefing that any transgressors of the regulations would be arrested. “Let me emphasise that mass gatherings are not only prohibited but are criminalised under Adjusted Alert Level 4,” said Cele. One is compelled to ask what the consequences would be of law enforcement failing to enforce the law in such a public way.

South Africa is in the midst of fighting a pandemic and our culture of impunity is catching up with us, manifesting in people not abiding by the law.

The supporters of Jacob Zuma, like him, openly defy the law; but he will not be laying his life on the line for them when the long arm of the law finally does come calling. DM168

Zukiswa Pikoli is a journalist at Maverick Citizen.

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for free to Pick n Pay Smart Shoppers at these Pick n Pay stores.


Comments - share your knowledge and experience

Please note you must be a Maverick Insider to comment. Sign up here or sign in if you are already an Insider.

Everybody has an opinion but not everyone has the knowledge and the experience to contribute meaningfully to a discussion. That’s what we want from our members. Help us learn with your expertise and insights on articles that we publish. We encourage different, respectful viewpoints to further our understanding of the world. View our comments policy here.

All Comments 1

  • If the ConCourt allows the Zuma rescission application by some kind of judicial acrobats based on Mpofu’s buffoonery, it will be a bigger disaster than the looting. And it should be unanimous because there is no legal basis for rescission. This is not as appeal, although Mpofu treats it a one, so the minority’s opinion on the judgement is now irrelevent

  • Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted