South Africa


Zuma’s still-mysterious ‘medical condition’ weaponised to prosecute journalist accused of disclosing it

Zuma’s still-mysterious ‘medical condition’ weaponised to prosecute journalist accused of disclosing it
From left: Former President Jacob Zuma. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed) | News 24 journalist Karyn Maughan. (Photo: Supplied)

News24 journalist Karyn Maughan has filed an application with the Pietermaritzburg High Court to set aside a summons and interdict former president Jacob Zuma from pursuing a private prosecution against her.

Jacob Zuma has taken aim at Karyn Maughan — a veteran legal writer who has covered the former president’s long foot-dragging to unfreedom — for allegedly disclosing his “medical condition” in her reportage of the various challenges to his medical parole.

Prosecutor Billy Downer, who has hung on for years waiting for the State’s day in court in Zuma’s corruption trial, has also been targeted by the former president, now accused No 1, for his alleged “leaking” of a doctor’s letter to Maughan.

Maughan argued in her founding affidavit that the summons by Zuma is “unlawful, vexatious and a gross abuse of the process of court”.

It had been obtained, said Maughan, “for the ulterior purpose of intimidating and harassing me and preventing me from freely doing my job as a journalist reporting on Mr Zuma’s criminal trial”.

This ulterior motive was apparent from statements and comments made by representatives of Zuma and his close associates, she said, adding: “There are absolutely no prospects of success in respect of the charges Mr Zuma has laid against me.” 

Strike one should be that Zuma has not obtained a nolle prosequi certificate from the Director of Public Prosecutions which legally entitles him to institute a private prosecution against Maughan, as required under section 7(2)(a) of the Criminal Procedure Act (CPA) 51 of 1977.

That should be the end of it.

Therefore, Zuma lacked standing to institute the private prosecution under section 7(1) of the CPA in the first place, and had “no substantial and peculiar interest in the issue of the trial since he has personally suffered no injury as a consequence of the offence he alleges I have committed”.

What is Maughan’s alleged sin?

So what legal sin does Zuma claim Maughan has committed?

Where has she indeed disclosed his “medical condition”?

Before we set sail across these murky, treacherous waters, shrouded in a fog of fugitive story-spinning, turn quickly to someone near you.

Ask: “Do you know what Jacob Zuma’s medical condition is? What specifically is he suffering from?”

If you’re alone, there’s Google. Tap “Jacob Zuma’s medical condition”.

You will find no specific answer. Nada, zip, zilch.

Where you will find much more detail of Zuma’s ailments is in Arthur Fraser’s own submissions in the high court challenge by the Democratic Alliance, the Helen Suzman Foundation and AfriForum to Fraser’s granting of medical parole to Zuma.

While the medical assessments by Dr LJ Mphatswe of the Medical Parole Advisory Board and Zuma’s personal physician, Dr QSM Mafa, were almost entirely blacked out, there are more details in Mphatswe’s report.

There he describes Zuma’s “life-threatening cardiac and neurological events” as well as “potential surgery” of a “potentially development of a malignant condition arising from a high grade ileocecal and colon lesion exists [sic]”.

Attached to Fraser’s affidavit to the high court was one deposed by Nompumelelo Radebe, employed at the Estcourt Correctional Centre where Zuma was incarcerated on charges of contempt of court in July 2021. This sheds even more light on Zuma’s symptoms.

Radebe also offers insight into the convict ex-president’s first hours in the Estcourt jail and his almost immediate deteriorating state of health.

Zuma’s first days in jail

After the former president arrived in a blue-light convoy and the world caught fire outside, he was “orientated on the rules and regulations of the correctional centre”.

Zuma was told the “stipulated time for unlocking of cells and lock-up. Mr Zuma was further informed that he will have to make his bed and clean his cell.”

The former president was also issued with “two pairs of offender uniform and toiletries” and “an immediate medical assessment had been conducted”.

On 10 July, two days after his incarceration, Radebe said, “I noticed Zuma does not make up his bed nor clean his cell as expected.”

Radebe escalated the matter to her superiors. When asked why he “failed to make up his bed and cleaning of the cell [sic], Mr Zuma indicated that he was not feeling well and he often feels weak and unable to make up his bed or clean his cell”.

The nursing staff were then “guided” to do the domestic work for the former president.

On 21 July, the operational manager of nursing at the prison had registered several concerns about Zuma’s physical state, said Radebe.


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These included a “drastic change of complexion, reddish eyes, loss of weight, challenges with his mobility, insomnia, inability to adequately execute his core responsibilities [sic] and swelling of the feet that was very concerning”.

Dr Google might help here with these symptoms and a wild-guess diagnosis.

By 5 August, the team had briefed Fraser, who advised that he had been contacted by a doctor who informed him Zuma would have to be moved to an external hospital for “an urgent medical procedure”.

Zuma was then transferred to the Mediclinic Heart Hospital in Pretoria where he received 24-hour medical care. 

On his release, he recuperated at the R5.2-million Waterkloof Ridge home of his wife Bongi Ngema (paid for by the Gupta family) before heading off for the rural tranquillity of KZN.

Gunning for Maughan

In her affidavit, Maughan said: “A simple review of the facts — all of which are well known to Mr Zuma and are succinctly set out in a judgment by Judge Piet Koen” made it clear that the charges were without any merit.

Maughan is accused of disclosing “without requisite permission, the contents of a letter dated 8 August 2021 from Brigadier-General (Dr) [Mcebisi] Mdutywa of the South African Military Health Service concerning Mr Zuma’s health status”.

Zuma alleged the letter was in the possession of the National Prosecuting Authority at the time and that it had somehow been “leaked” to Maughan.

Maughan said: “The oral request I made to [the advocate] Mr [Andrew] Breitenbach on 9 August 2021 was for copies of the court papers that had been or would be filed for the hearing the following day.”

Court papers are public documents and her request, said Maughan, had been made on the basis of this understanding.

“It is a common practice for journalists to ask attorneys and counsel for public court documents.”

In fact, Mdutywa’s letter said little, apart from that Zuma had undergone “an extensive medical procedure”.

Mdutywa’s letter attached to court papers is far less personally intrusive than those filed by Fraser, with attachments, about Zuma’s health.

Go figure.

Maughan said that her reporting on Zuma’s trial and other politically charged matters had “raised the ire of Mr Zuma and his supporters”.

She had been “repeatedly maligned and threatened, including by members of Mr Zuma’s family and his representatives at the Jacob G Zuma Foundation (‘the Zuma Foundation’) for doing my job”. 

Maughan attached transcripts of vicious tweets by Zuma’s daughter Duduzile Sambudla-Zuma.

On 12 August 2021, shortly after Maughan reported on the postponement of a court matter, Sambudla-Zuma posted a tweet “referencing journalists being beaten up in Sri Lanka together with the following threat: ‘@KarynMaughan Come Look Here’,” Maughan said.

The torrent on the Twitter sewerage pipe

The announcement of the service of Zuma’s summons on Maughan on 6 September was accompanied, she said, “by a torrent of social media abuse directed at me, led by the Zuma Foundation, Mr [Mzwanele] Manyi and Ms Zuma-Sambudla”.

Maughan said that over the years she had been “subjected to varying degrees of criticism and vitriol on social media and, as a journalist, one quickly learns to develop a thick skin, as unfortunate as that is. 

“But in recent years, the general, often gender-specific abuse, has escalated markedly. The online and real abuse of women journalists has been an issue that has received attention from both international and local human rights bodies and press freedom organisations.”

In July last year, the United Nations special rapporteur on gender justice and freedom of expression, Irene Khan, released a report on this issue, said Maughan.

Following the Zuma Foundation’s announcement of Zuma’s private prosecution, and the subsequent tweets by Manyi and Zuma-Sambudla, Maughan said she had become “the target of an unprecedented level of social media abuse, much of it directed at my gender”.

The attacks, she added, “also appeared intended to serve as a threat to journalists in general — to intimidate journalists covering Mr Zuma’s trial and political project, and to discourage them reporting on events in a critical and independent manner, insofar as that reporting does not please Mr Zuma, his representatives and supporters”.

Abuse of court process

Part of the campaign, said Maughan, was the summons, which was “a gross abuse of the court process obtained for an ulterior purpose. 

“It is a cynical attack on the right to freedom of expression and a free media, which is the lifeblood of our constitutional democracy, and which is protected by section 16 of the Constitution.

“Indeed, Mr Zuma’s conduct in issuing this summons, given the circumstances set out in this affidavit as a whole, breaches his obligations in relation to the right to freedom of expression and free media contained in section 16 of the Constitution.” DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • David Mark says:

    His medical condition might still be a mystery, but at least the country knows what condition its been suffrring from since 2008 – a continuous, madness inducing, and constant Zumigraine!

  • Rory Macnamara says:

    We are with you Karyn Maughan. Zuma is taking up oxygen that could be used effectively by others who wish to add value to South Africa. Zums’s lawyers clearly do not understand how the law operates and are using tactics that would embarrass an intern, never mind a first year law student. Zuma needs to face the charges like a man and stop making the law look like the ass it is!

  • Jimbo Smith says:

    SA sinking rapidly to the most insane, stuffed up country in the World due entirely to the behaviour & calibre of these so called “leaders”

  • Beyond Fedup says:

    What a pathetic, squirming little coward Zuma is!! Only the most wayward and grossly stupid would believe the nonsense that he and his supporters spew. Stand up and be a man for once!!

  • Alan Jeffrey says:

    He seemed to have made a miraculous recovery when seen with his pal Carl Niehaus exiting the Sun Coast Casino in Durban shortly after his release layghing and smiling and walking unaided.
    They have no shame..

  • Bomi Hloba says:

    Karyn, thank you for upholding and concretely standing for your right(s) as a brilliant, which are gravely entrenched and conferred in the most apex law of the Republic of South Africa, the Constitution.

    Please do not permit for yourself to become a victim of abuse by a handful of conceited individuals, we as the public firmly stand by your side and support and applaud the splendid work you do. You and a great number of journalists in South Africa keep us informed and updated on these pressing issues that are plaguing our country and we are here for it!

  • Bomi Hloba says:

    *brilliant journalist

  • Dhasagan Pillay says:

    Now this would be an entertaining trial – go to court Karyn, go to court.
    Allow Arthur Fraser to explain himself.
    Allow ex-President Zuma and his lawyer to explain how you disclosed confidential information, while not disclosing anything. Allow Duduzile to defend herself against these shocking allegations of cyber-bullying. It may even make Johnny Depp and Amber Heard’s cases (both the US and UK versions) look boring.

  • Anesh Govender says:

    “Gross abuse of court processes” Smoke and mirrors indeed. No wonder they wanted the ability to classify documents and have punitive powers over the press. A free press is the only shining light in this country and we support all those brave journos. What a circus these RET thugs are….

    • Derek Taylor says:

      I think not enough attention is given to the Zuma era of the attack against press freedom. Give the Zumits credit, they new the risk free press holds.

  • Johan Buys says:

    Since former prisoner zuma certainly relies on others to pay his own legal fees (being unable to afford even his mortgage), how do we go about contributing to the legal fees of Maughan and Downer?

  • Hilary Morris says:

    Strength to Karyn Maughan, and I’m guessing for every vile tweet directed at her, there are more likely to be a hundred people in silent support. She is a great example of journalistic integrity and personal courage. It must be really hard to take on the vitriol and remain steadfast. Wishing her the justice she deserves – and thank you Karyn, for your excellent reporting.

  • Wilhelm van Rooyen says:

    we support you fully, Karyn – stand strong!

  • R S says:

    Keep on fighting on Karyn! We all know this is just a rubbish attempt by the old man to avoid spending his last days in a prison cell. I look forward to the day the entire Zuma cabal is locked behind bars.

  • Gerrit Marais says:

    Dear Lord, you know what needs to be done. Please just do it.

  • Gazeley Walker says:

    Clearly Zuma is receiving some very weak and poor legal advice and guidance, or he is not listening to the advice of Mpofu. But then again, who in their right mind can endure the legal monologues of an advocate who has, I understand, lost more cases than he’s won, but is never short on long outbursts.

  • Rob Wilson says:

    These hardly seem like the actions of someone who said he wants his day in court and yet can’t afford to pay his own legal bills. The court should treat it like a French referee when a side is wasting time. Reverse the matter.

  • Bob Marsden says:

    Zuma admitted to hospital 6 August 2021 “his condition … needed an extensive emergency procedure that has been delayed for 18 months”. So since February 2020.
    “On 28 November 2020, the President was put under active care and support after he suffered a traumatic injury.” So after the need for an emergency procedure arose.

    No “compounding legal matters and recent incarceration” could have prevented the emergency procedure from being carried out then.

    Being outside South Africa, I missed the reports of Zuma’s “traumatic injury”. What was it, and did it prevent the “emergency procedure” being performed while he was “under active care and support”?

    It seems that the sensible move would have been to release Zuma to the hospital for the emergency procedure to be carried out, then have him returned to the hospital wing of prison to be given the medical aftercare he required.

  • Anne Felgate says:

    Stay strong Karyn and Billy
    You have more support than you realise. If zuma does manage to
    ‘have his day in court’ then we will start crowd funding to support you both
    That would be an interesting court case and maybe it would force the disclosure of his ‘mysterious illness’
    If it wasn’t such a waste of money and time, it would be hilarious

  • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

    The public fails to understand that the support of Zuma directly comes from the ANC and its leaders. This support then leads to the conduct of his children to say anything including what borders on criminality. To say that Zuma is supported by the RET is misleading and disinformation. It was the very Ramaphosa who expressed his happiness at his release and it was Lamola a Minister of Justice who visited him when he was imprisoned and it was Cele who was refusing to carry the court order! The fact that KZN openly says they support him does not detract from the support that the ANC NEC gives him expressed by the late Jessie Duarte. It is something that the media must wake up and smell the coffee.
    In a recent Daily Maverick article, we are informed that when Zuma had problems paying his legal fees after courts refused the state to pay his legal fees it was none other than Paul Mashatile who raised money to pay for his legal fees.
    You have a situation of the Ace Magashule step – aside being paraded by the media but Zuma as an ex – officio member of the NEC has never been called to step – aside and will be contesting as National Chairperson in the next elections to kick Gwede out.
    I am a very strong supporter of Karyn Maughan, Carol Paton, Solly Moeng and Amabhungane but I refuse that they must have a special dispensation. I believe that Karyn acted ethically and the courts would throw out the case. She has not broken any law and there is no reason to panic.

  • jcdville stormers says:

    Zuma is the most notorious criminal in South Africa ,despicable character,low life who became president and broke south africas economy with his greed!!!He is only loved by other criminals

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