Zuma’s legal and financial woes go from ‘I’ll have to sell my socks’ to socking it to the NPA and media
Unable to pay the millions of rands owed to the state, former president Jacob Zuma’s foundation is hoping that donors will continue to fund a show trial against his nemeses – the NPA and media.
If the curators of VBS want to seize assets belonging to former president Jacob Zuma to retrieve costs for the remaining R6.5-million loan used for upgrades to his Nkandla homestead, they will have to obtain the permission of the Zulu king, according to the spokesperson for Zuma’s foundation, Mzwanele Manyi.
But serial defaulter Zuma is also in arrears with the Ingonyama Trust – which owns the land that he occupies – according to the chairperson of that entity’s board, Jerome Ngwenya. The Zulu king is the sole trustee of the Ingonyama land.
“The former president has a long-term residential lease on Ingonyama Trust land at his homestead at Nkandla. It is currently in arrears for an amount of R175,259.84 to date. The trust has a first call on his assets to recover a debt arising [from] the lease,” Ngwenya told DM168.
He added, however, that the trust had “no intention or plans to effect any attachment or execute any eviction against [Zuma] and his family”, and that all of Zuma’s rights as a beneficiary of the Nxamalala clan remained intact.
As reported by Daily Maverick on 30 August, the Pietermaritzburg High Court ordered that the curators of the collapsed VBS Mutual Bank could attach cattle, furniture and other realisable assets to repay the R6.5-million left on the loan he was granted by the bank.
The Office of the State Attorney also still has to collect R18.2-million from Zuma, the result of a high court judgment last year that was upheld by the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) that he pay back taxpayer money used to fund his protracted Arms Deal defence.
Zuma did not respond to the letter of demand that he was served in this regard, with the next step being a summons from the State Attorney.
Being in debt and “broke” has not deterred “pensioner” Zuma from “seeking justice” for acts of “persecution” he consistently alleges he has suffered at the hands of the state and judiciary. Manyi announced in June that he would be taking on review various aspects of the State Capture report in which he was directly implicated in wrongdoing.
Despite all of the above, Zuma made it clear this week that he would indeed pursue a much-threatened and potentially costly private prosecution against the senior state advocate in his graft trial – Billy Downer – and Downer’s alleged “accomplice”, News24 legal journalist Karyn Maughan, for making public Zuma’s private “medical information” last year.
The information was publicly available and did not reveal any details of Zuma’s various ailments, but the former president insists that Downer “leaked” the information, contained in a note, to Maughan, which was in breach of the National Prosecuting Authority Act.
Downer and Maughan were both served with summonses on 5 September.
The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) said shortly thereafter that it would support Downer, and that he would continue to lead the prosecution team in the Arms Deal trial.
The South African National Editors’ Forum said the summons on Maughan was an attempt at intimidation and an attack on media freedom.
The former president’s inability to handle his finances has been widely reported on, as has his penchant for pleading poverty. As a former president, Zuma receives a R2.9-million annual pension, security and lifelong medical aid via taxpayers.
In 2019, while addressing hundreds of supporters outside the Pietermaritzburg High Court after an early sitting of the corruption case, Zuma said that he would need to start selling “hats and socks” to fund his defence.
His supporters continue to solicit funds for his legal matters via social media.
Last year, the SCA upheld the high court ruling that taxpayer money being used for Zuma’s personal legal fees was “unlawful, unconstitutional and invalid”, and also agreed with the lower court that the State Attorney should compile a “full and complete accounting” of all the former president’s legal costs relating to the Arms Deal case, which had to be recovered.
That office tallied the amount at R18.2-million, excluding interest. But according to two civil litigation judgments in cases brought by the DA and the EFF in December 2018 in the North Gauteng High Court and the SCA in April 2021, Zuma racked up personal legal fees and cost orders of at least R25-million.
As for a summons being issued by the State Attorney to retrieve the R18.2-million from Zuma, justice and correctional services spokesperson Chrispin Phiri referred DM168 to Solicitor-General Fhedzisani Pandelani for an update.
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Pandelani, suggesting time constraints after being unable to meet a 24-hour deadline that was extended, said that he had not received an update from the State Attorney “on progress made in relation to service of summons or whether the State Attorney has to date obtained the requisite return of service from the Sheriff of the Court”.
“The order of the high court, in relation to recovery, however, still stands.”
Manyi told DM168 he did not know how much of the R18.2-million Zuma had paid back, but added the foundation would “never disclose that” anyway.
“The attitude is not to share.
“I don’t think there is a justifiable moral demand [to know how much money Zuma has paid back],” he said.
Zuma had made use of taxpayer money to fund his Arms Deal defence “in good faith”, said Manyi, believing he was entitled to do so, even though it “later turned out to be wrong”.
But, he added, that did not mean Zuma did not have to pay back the money, as the court had ordered. “The manner in which it was brought up … had no moral justification. These debts were not incurred maliciously, not [approached with an attitude of] I am just taking my chances. The debts were incurred in the course of doing one’s duty.”
The narrative being spun now, said Manyi, was one of Zuma being “this rogue person who was sitting there and was just chowing government money”.
Zuma was genuinely incapable of paying the millions he owed to the state, said Manyi. “He doesn’t have the money, so what exactly must the guy do?”
Asked where he would then find the cash to prosecute Downer and Maughan privately, Manyi replied that such a question was “morally bankrupt” and designed to “take advantage” of Zuma, who had a right to defend himself legally even if he could not personally afford to do so.
Zuma was not directly “getting any money” to fund the private prosecution, he said. It was rather a matter of “who, this time around, was willing to assist” with funding.
And that money would not go to or through Zuma or his foundation, although it would be in Zuma’s name, he said. It would go “straight to where it was needed”. As an example, the security deposit needed for the private prosecution would be paid directly to the court by “whoever [the donor] was”, said Manyi.
“Whenever people’s hearts opened up” Zuma had his legal fees paid, said Manyi. “And more people’s hearts must open to settle his debt.”
Ngwenya said a court judgment finding that Ingonyama’s leases were essentially void had been reported inaccurately, and the matter was being appealed. Zuma’s lease thus remained valid and was authorised in terms of the KwaZulu-Natal Ingonyama Trust Amendment Act (meaning his fixed property could not be seized).
“The reports by some sections of the mainstream media that the appeal on the lease matter has been dismissed are deliberately false and misleading. The [SCA] has so far dealt with one separate and independent issue pertaining [to] the recusal of the two judges who presided in the matter.
“The [Ingonyama] Trust … raised for the first time the recusal of the two judges on the basis that [the first applicant, the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution,] claims that it is acting on behalf of everyone who resides or has land rights on the Ingonyama Trust land. The two judges and/or their families have land rights and reside on the Ingonyama Trust land. So the trust argument is that this means they are judges in their own cause.”
One of civil rights organisation AfriForum’s advocates in its private prosecution unit, Phyllis Vorster, told DM168 that it was “very difficult” to quantify the costs of private prosecution.
Vorster said the Criminal Procedure Act made provision for two amounts to be paid – one being cast in stone. This was a deposit of R2,500 to the magistrates’ court in the appropriate jurisdiction. The amount is an administrative fee.
“The other amount is to secure the security for the cost of defence – the legal costs for Mr Downer and Ms Maughan.”
In a generic private prosecution, representation must be made to the presiding officer or the magistrate in the area of jurisdiction, said Vorster. That amount would then be allocated by the magistrate. Factors that needed to be taken into account included how long the prosecution would take, who the prosecutor would be, and how many witnesses would be called.
“The accused is then at liberty at his first appearance, before he pleads, to ask the court to increase the [security] amount, so that is not cast in stone.” For example, the costs could be increased because of the need to cover two or three counsel, instead of one, and expert witnesses.
The amount did not have to be paid in cash, said Vorster. A bond could also be used for security.
Zuma has submitted a list of 23 witnesses who could be called in the matter, including President Cyril Ramaphosa, Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola, NPA head Shamila Batohi and KZN prosecutions head Elaine Zungu.
As a government employee, Downer might be able to apply for defence via the State Attorney, said Vorster, but Maughan would need to secure private counsel. DM168
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.