South Africa

ARMS DEAL TRIAL

Jacob Zuma medically fit to stand trial, says State-appointed specialist

Advocate Billy Downer. (Photo: SANDILE NDLOVU) | Former president Jacob Zuma. (Photo: EFE-EPA/Jon Hrusa)

Former president Jacob Zuma’s ‘medical condition’ has become a central issue in protracting legal proceedings at his Arms Deal corruption trial in the Pietermaritzburg High Court.

A chief specialist and academic head of the Department of Cardiology at Pretoria’s Steve Biko Academic Hospital and the University of Pretoria believes former president Jacob Zuma is fit to stand trial in his Arms Deal graft case. 

The case continues in the Pietermaritzburg High Court on Tuesday. 

Professor Ian Andrew Sarkin was expected to submit a supplementary medical report on his findings to senior prosecutor, Advocate Billy Downer, on Monday. 

The State has appointed a gastric surgeon, Professor Martin Brand, and nephrologist Dr Albert Muranda to assist Sarkin. 

Sarkin’s findings were discussed in an affidavit deposed by Downer, which was filed with the court last week. 

In his affidavit, Downer says that on 16 September Sarkin informed him that after reading the additional documents supplied by Zuma’s medical team, “[Sarkin] remained of the view that [Zuma] is medically fit to stand trial”.

By the date of Downer’s affidavit being filed, Sarkin had not yet physically examined the former president. 

Zuma’s doctors and the State-appointed team had what was described in Downer’s affidavit as a “collegial and open” and comprehensive discussion about Zuma’s state of health on 3 September. The teams are attempting to reach some sort of consensus on his health. 

The Department of Correctional Services announced on 5 September that Zuma had been granted medical parole. The former president was sentenced to 15 months’ direct imprisonment in July for not adhering to a Constitutional Court order that he appear before the Zondo Commission. (Zuma’s application for rescission was denied last week.) 

On 6 September, Zuma was admitted to a Pretoria hospital for “extensive medical evaluation and care” to do with his “medical condition”, which required an “extensive emergency procedure”. The procedure had allegedly been delayed for 18 months because of “compounding” legal matters and his incarceration. 

It is unclear if Zuma is still in hospital, but this is one of several matters that should be cleared up in court when the matter continues on Tuesday and Wednesday.  

On the agenda is the hearing of Zuma’s special plea to have Downer removed from the trial. However, should the former president seek yet another postponement, reasons for this will need to be argued before the presiding judge, Piet Koen, with evidence needing to be presented. Zuma is seeking to have Downer removed in terms of Section 106 (1)(h) of the Criminal Procedure Act, and that he then be acquitted in terms of Section 106(4). 

Zuma’s “medical condition” has become a central issue in the ongoing legal proceedings.  

Advocate Dali Mpofu, on behalf of Zuma, had previously agreed to Koen’s order of 10 August that Zuma be “examined” by a State doctor. The State, however, has been having difficulty getting a doctor into the room with Zuma – at least this was still the case by the time Downer filed his affidavit. 

The matter has given rise to a complex situation where the former president, even while in prison, was monitored by a South African National Defence Force medical team. 

Because of Zuma’s stature he has been able to openly defy the order to be examined by the State, and is yet to face any consequences.  

Zuma’s legal team has consistently called out the State for wanting to re-examine Zuma, saying that by doing so it is undermining the trust and authority of his military medical team, who have been treating Zuma, while Sarkin has never done so. 

But Downer says in his affidavit: “I respectfully submit the NPA is within its right to be separately advised by, and if necessary to adduce the evidence of, medical experts who are not part of the team treating [Zuma], as to his fitness to attend court and stand trial. 

“Medical evidence that is presented by an accused remains, just as all defence evidence in a criminal case, subject to the State’s right to question it, obtain and present any qualifying evidence or evidence to the contrary, subject it to cross-examination and present the State’s argument concerning the merits of the evidence to the Court.”

Downer’s affidavit also addresses the accusation made by Zuma’s legal team that the prosecution services – Downer in particular – is playing fast and loose with handing information to the media, and “leaking” Zuma’s confidential medical report compiled by his doctors. That report did not state Zuma’s condition.

Downer admits that his office does send documents to journalists, but with embargo conditions. He was referring to an article that appeared on the online news platform News24 on 10 August, written by journalist Karyn Maughan.

“Ms Maughan’s request for the State’s papers was aimed at enabling her to report accurately on the proceedings,” said Downer.

His acceding to her request, said Downer, was supported by Section 7(2) and 16(1)(a) of the Constitution, which states that the State must respect, promote and fulfil the rights in the Bill of Rights, and that everyone has the right to “freedom of expression”.

Downer quoted the Supreme Court of Appeal judgment in the matter between the City of Cape Town vs South African National Roads Authority and others, which said it was not possible for the media to report accurately on court proceedings if they could only access documents once a case is called, and that it “is vital that the public be able to have access to court records prior to the hearing so that they can follow the proceedings in open court”. DM

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  • Zuma is NOT an ordinary private citizen albeit he is no longer the president of this country. As an ex-president, paid by the South African taxpayer, he is very much still a public servant. Thus when he uses a team of (conflicted?) doctors, whether they come from the defence force or anywhere else, to try and avoid going to trial, he does NOT have the right to refuse to be examined by an independent medical team. In this situation it is very much the right of all South Africans to know exactly what his so-called medical condition is.

  • The matter is still being heard as I type this. Zuma’s team throwing old arguments on the table that has been lost already. Astonishing to see how they are allowed to WASTE the court’s time.

    The old attorney said to the young one, “when the facts are on your side you hammer on the facts. If not the table”.

    Mpofu and Masuka turning our courts into circuses. 90% is fluff and noise and not focused on the medical issues. Purely for distractive value Mpofu and Masuka the winners here.

    The judge too weak to stop the time wasting. The accused is not in court and the proceedings can’t continue, Koen pointed this out. Yet he is allowing them to address him on issues with no medical relevance.

    The question is crisp and simple. Is Jacob Zuma in contempt of court? YES OR NO.

    It is absurd in the extreme, Zuma arguing effectively that his medical “evidence” cannot be challenged as it is confidential. It means that no person will be prosecutable as everyone will get a doctor to say they are not fit to stand trial.

    • The medical issue is not over, it just wasn’t dealt with fully. The special plea for Downers removal is what they were arguing. Zuma wasn’t needed in court for that but for the trial to start they will have to relook at the medical issues and I suppose only if he claims he is unfit to stand trial.

  • The prosecution is always on the defensive against allegations from the JZ camp. No wonder some members of the public get the impression he is being persecuted. Turn this around!