South Africa


Zuma battling mystery condition for 18 months, court hears – state wants its own doctor to examine him

Police as seen through a barb wire barricade outside the Pietermaritzburg High Court, 10 August 2021. Police showed a strong presence despite the virtual proceedings of Jacob Zuma's court case. Photo / Shiraaz Mohamed.

While former president Jacob Zuma’s condition has allegedly been made worse by his stay at the Estcourt Correctional Facility, the prosecution and the defence are in the dark about the exact nature of the illness.

This emerged during postponement proceedings heard virtually in the Pietermaritzburg High Court on Tuesday.

Advocate Wim Trengove SC, who is representing the National Prosecuting Authority and Billy Downer in the special plea application, revealed that neither the prosecution nor the defence had the details of Zuma’s condition since the letter submitted by his doctor did not provide details. 

The court has agreed to postpone Zuma’s case to 9 and 10 September, and instructed his team to submit a medical report by no later than 20 August. The report should confirm whether Zuma is fit to stand trial, and provide some clarity on his condition. 

Initially, Advocate Dali Mpofu SC, representing Zuma, requested the medical report be submitted by the end of the month, but Trengove called for an earlier submission to allow the prosecution to interrogate the findings.

“The report is important not only to determine what should happen on the adjourned hearing, but for us to instruct our experts and to do our investigation to determine how to respond to the report,” Trengove said.

He added that the prosecution might want to appoint it’s own legal expert to examine Zuma and rebut the defence report. 

“We are at the moment completely in the dark as to the justification for the postponement, more particularly the reason for the postponement. The doctor’s letter does not identify the medical condition of which he suffers at all. And says, quite perplexingly, that it’s been a condition for which he has required extensive emergency procedures which have been delayed for 18 months. So, this is a crisis which has dragged on for 18 months and we find it very hard to understand how that transforms into an inability to stand trial,” Downer said. 

Mpofu told the court that he too was in the dark about the exact nature of Zuma’s illness, although he had an opportunity to speak with Zuma’s doctor during a recent consultation. 

“Mr Trengove says they are in the dark, it is not a coincidence. We are all in the dark. He knows that the exact medical condition of the accused is a matter of confidentiality. I don’t know if he expected the doctor to go into that detail in his letter. We didn’t. 

“… I would have thought the fact that the problem existed for 18 months is exactly the reason why it is exacerbated now, especially since the incarceration of the accused,” Mpofu said. 

The parties agreed that the medical report should be submitted on 20 August when the prosecution would have an opportunity to appoint their own medical expert to examine Zuma. 

“The State may appoint a medical practitioner of its choice to assess his ability to stand trial and for that doctor to be a witness if necessary,” Judge Piet Koen ruled as part of the postponement order. 

Left, Advocate Wim Trengove, Advocate Mpofu Dali. (Photos: Gallo Images)

To Zoom or not to Zoom

The court also debated whether the next proceedings should be heard virtually or in person. If Zuma is cleared to appear in court, the special plea application will proceed in person.

Judge Koen said he would consider the logistics around hearing medical evidence virtually, although both Mpofu and Trengove agreed that an in-person hearing would be preferable.

“If it is to be by way of a virtual hearing, my concern is to ensure the integrity of the process. I want to ensure that they testify in a room where there is some sort of oversight to ensure the integrity of the process,” he said.

The judge suggested that each legal team could nominate a representative to sit in the room where the doctor is testifying, to ensure there is no interference. 

The lawyers agreed to consult and provide the court with a joint letter, suggesting the best course of action on the format of the hearing.

Police patrol and a  barb wire barricade is placed outside the Pietermaritzburg High Court, 10 August 2021.  Photo / Shiraaz Mohamed.

Although court proceedings were held virtually, police were on guard outside the Pietermaritzburg high court on Tuesday morning.  Zuma supporters had planned to protest outside court for the former’s president’s in-person hearing but put they put their plans on hold late on Sunday amid the anticipated postponement via virtual linkup.  DM 

Dianne Hawker is a news editor at Newzroom Afrika and has been a legal journalist for 15 years.


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 30

  • Treatment has been postponed for 18 months and now, suddenly, two days before his court date it becomes critical? I smell a jz (RAT).

  • This is totally unacceptable. I am a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons and was a consultant general surgeon in the NHS for most of my professional life. I can not think of any medical condition to explain this scenario. The court does not have to accept this ‘sick note’ and should demand from the Military Medical Services doctor who submitted this unacceptable detail lacking note:-
    1. What trauma was sustained and which organs were damaged on this occasion.
    2. What is the current medical condition that requires emergency surgery and what diagnostic aids were used to establish this diagnosis.
    When the court has received this information in a defined period of time, an appropriate medical expert in the relevant field should be granted access to the patient and order any appropriate investigations to establish a reliable diagnosis.
    Mr Zuma has already tried in the Zondo commission to use an unacceptable ‘sick not’ from the Military Medical Services to delay his appearance there.

    • The doctors who signed the sick note should be brought before the court and examined under oath by counsel advised by a competent professional ( how is your diary Paddy!). Less easy to wriggle than a mealy mouthed affidavit!

      • One should be able to take it for granted that doctors should have integrity but unfortunately, like all professions, we have our black sheep too.

        • Put sick note doctor in front of a medical board panel of specialists and if found to be misrepresenting strike from the role. Then prosecute criminally for defeating the ends of justice.

          Should stop tricksy doctors pretty quickly I would think.

        • The reality is criminals come in all shapes and forms. They need to be stopped legally, the honour system simply doesn’t work. Ask anyone who looks at their cell phone while driving.

      • I did time as a national service doctor in the 70s and remember that, as a group, the permanent force doctors that I personally came into contact with were notable for their ideology, arrogance and incompetence. Sheltered employment with perks. I have little doubt the same would apply today. Extensive emergency procedures delayed for 18 months? A medical emergency by definition implies immediate risk to life. One harks back to the incomplete and suspicious medical certificate lodged two years ago when Zuma was in front of Judge Pillay. More farce in the offing methinks.

        • OMG…really?
          The only thing wrong with this man is perhaps a twinge of regret? Or a crisis of conscience? Or….sorry…I take it back…for a moment I forgot who we were talking about!

    • The minute JZ was jailed you just knew that he would soon wind up in hospital, followed by a discharge on medical grounds just as was the case with Mr Shaik who is now touring the golf courses of KZN.

      So far, all is going according to script. Shabir’s mystery condition was untreatable high blood pressure as I recall and I’m sure JZ will have something equally mysterious and unverifiable.

  • It irks me that we are still reading about Zuma’s shenanigans in his attempts to dodge jail term. How long must we be exposed to this rubbish??? We’re dealing with the already very stressful impact of the never ending pandemic. We can only take so much and no more.

  • This is the legal equivalent of “but sir, the dog ate my homework!” and just as puerile, weak and transparent. But the end-game is surely in sight. Next move is emergency treatment for his unique condition at the only clinic in the world qualified to provide it, coincidentally located in Dubai-bye.

  • Zuma has an acute case of ‘Stercore Bovino’. The only treatment is to apply a 150mm length of duct tape to the offending orifice.

  • I forgot to add it’s actually laughable that everything including the kitchen sink is being used for a man (coward?) who keeps demaning HIS DAY IN COURT*.

    * but on very special treatment and conditions and full of conspiracy theories. Syphilis actually could be the only logical explainer? hehe. hehehehehehe.

  • Methinks we have a new verb: to Zuma is to postpone facing the music/the “might” of the law, as long as possible, preferably till after your demise of natural causes at an old age…
    Or is this “doing a Schabir Shaik” and will we still see JZ on the golf course? And can we please have water cannon wherever necessary, ready for any planned protests should the man actually get to court one day? If there is any intelligence, or a police dept somewhere….

    • …..and the picture at the top of this article shows more policemen outside the empty courtroom that appeared anywhere during the “insurrection” attempt! That in itself, speaks volumes!

  • Do recall his appearance on the stage of Nkandla: hale and hearty, he was, in top form, bellowing into the mic, belting out his “Mshini wam!” while doing his little dance – for 39 minutes he pranced around – with his terrible condition, now requiring hospilization – present for 18 months. Honestly, we are not fools like you, JZ – we have seen through your ploys long ago – but unfortunately, you have a way of defeating the ends of justice and we seem powerless to prevent it…

  • In my opinion this was all planned with the appeal to attend court in person.
    Its not about Zuma’s constitutional rights, its all about delaying the trial. Tactics!
    These delays cannot go on any longer. Complete waste of taxpayers money!!!

  • I think that the total failure to stop the use of the extended Stalingrad tactic, and the result that one individual can misuse power and money to endlessly dodge accountability, is a shocking blot on our judicial system. This is taking the “rights” of the individual too far, to the detriment of all society.
    There should be a point where someone should be able to say enough is enough, and the trial continues in the absence of the accused if need be. I know it is possible, but there should be a point where this becomes mandatory. Two or three postponements, then continue. This should extend across different cases and be applied to the individual who is prone to being embroiled in legal battles..
    One criminally minded individual cannot be allowed to make a fool of the country, over and over.

  • This man is an economic terrorist who has personally stolen at least R16bn from our country and enabled much more to be stolen. He should be treated as a traitor an shown no mercy as he has already caused much suffering and the loss many jobs and much more damage to our economy. His assets should be frozen before his corrupt children can squander the tax money he stole.

  • Everybody up to date has been far too deferential to Zuma, starting at the Zondo commission, until they lost patience with him. From now on, let us hope that Judge Koen, who seems to have got the measure of the former president, gets tough with him and demands proper and certifiable proof- otherwise, this whole charade, which is no longer entertaining, can go on indefinitely.