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South Africa is a country unsuccessfully searching for post-Zuma space

South Africa is a country unsuccessfully searching for post-Zuma space
Former president Jacob Zuma holds a press conference a few days before being arrested at Nkandla, KwaZulu-Natal, on 4 July 2021. (Photo: Leila Dougan)

Last week’s decision by the Constitutional Court confirming the illegality of Arthur Fraser’s decision to release former president Jacob Zuma on medical parole has brought upon even more frenzied debate about Zuma’s future. For some, this brings back memories of what happened when he began his jail term in July 2021. For others, it is about the rule of law, for all of us. While there is no evidence for now that this will lead to violence, it is bound to turn into a barrage of emotional arguments.

Last week the Constitutional Court said it would not hear Zuma’s application to overturn a previous decision of the Supreme Court of Appeal that he should not have been granted medical parole by his acolyte Arthur Fraser. He served two months in jail after the Constitutional Court said he had defied its earlier order that he finish his testimony at the Zondo Commission.

There is now much legal debate about what this means, with some consequences clearer than others.

It is obvious that Fraser’s decision to overrule the decision of the Medical Parole Board was always wrong. Normally, this would mean that a decision would be reversed, and Zuma would be in the same position that he was in before the decision was made.

Here, it appears things are slightly different – much time has passed, and the 15-month sentence that was imposed on him has obviously finished.

However, medical parole is normally granted only to inmates who are terminally ill, and thus, insofar as is known, it has never before happened that a person granted medical parole should now go back to prison, not even Schabir Shaik. Particularly when their sentence would have been deemed to have ended.

Contrasting views

This is where some of the arguments now start.

For some, both lawyers and ordinary mortals, he must return to jail. The law is the law, the decision to grant him medical parole was wrong, and therefore he must serve out his term behind bars like any other prisoner (in reality, he would not have served much more time before being eligible to apply for ordinary parole, anyway).

For others, again some without an LLB and some with it, the person who made the incorrect decision was Fraser, and all Zuma did was to comply with the decision as it was made. It would have been nonsensical for him to apply for medical parole, receive it, and then not act on it.

There is of course, a counter-argument to that, which is that it is well known that Fraser and Zuma follow the same political agenda, and Zuma benefited from the actions of a person known to be a closely aligned ally.

Also, what consequences could Fraser really suffer now that he is no longer in the government’s employ?

These contrasting views, and informal legal opinions, may well explain why current Correctional Services Commissioner Makgothi Thobakgale has not yet made any public statement about what course of action he would undertake.

Strong statements

In the meantime, unsurprisingly, there are now many strong views being expressed.

Jacob Zuma Foundation spokesperson Mzwanele Manyi appeared to claim in an interview on SAfm on Monday morning that Zuma is “so hated” that he cannot receive medical care in this country.

In response to a question from radio host Elvis Presslin about why he was receiving medical care in Russia when there was proper care available here, he first answered, “Where is Mthembu today, with that kind of accolade for our hospitals?”

This is in reference to the former Communications Minister Jackson Mthembu, who died during the pandemic.

Then Manyi said:

“Because Jacob Zuma is so hated. I think President Zuma is within his rights to have all types of scepticism. Even medical people, nobody can be trusted these days. So indeed the country could have the wherewithal to do it, but in terms of ethics, in terms of hatred that President Zuma is suffering in this country, as the foundation, we always advise him; go to places where there is no consensus on hating you, so we don’t trust that people working around President Zuma have his best interests at heart”.

In short, Manyi appears to be claiming that medical staff, nurses and doctors in South Africa may conspire to hurt, or even kill, the former president.

This is an astonishing claim, made with zero evidence.

And it is made against health workers who have a long track record of caring for anyone, no matter their beliefs, status or role in our society.

But Manyi is not alone in the intensity of his feelings.

Over the weekend EFF leader Julius Malema said that President Ramaphosa should issue a pardon to Zuma, saying “We have reached a point where we must choose peace over all these types of things that we are talking about. To say no one is above the law and all of that… Zuma has served – it’s enough.”

Of course, this would be one legal way of ending the entire issue, could well allow Ramaphosa to appear politically magnanimous, and would make it hard for Zuma and his supporters to criticise him in public.

It is important to remember that one of the enduring dynamics of Zuma’s political career has been the contest between his political power and the power of the rule of law.

In 2009, just before the elections, he was able to use that political power to stop the NPA from charging him with corruption after the courts had found Schabir Shaik guilty of paying him bribes.

It appeared in 2021 that his power had weakened to the point where he could be jailed.

One of his key claims has been that the judiciary has always been biased against him. Again, no evidence of this has been provided.

Rule of law

But those who support Zuma are likely to continue their attacks on judges. At least one caller on talk radio has already claimed that if they (judges) “treat us like apartheid, we will do to them what we did to apartheid”.

For some, this leads to fears that if he were jailed, the violence that occurred in 2021 could happen again.

The fact that so few people have been arrested for that violence underscores this.

As does the fact that some that incited it, such as his daughter, Duduzile Zuma-Sambudla, are still inciting violence on Twitter, with no apparent action being taken against them.

However, on balance, it may well be some time before the legal arguments around what will happen are resolved. And in fact, it is even possible that Thobakgale asks a court for some direction – and that would lead to protracted applications.

Also, the conditions on the ground that led to that violence in 2021 may well have changed.

First, it does not appear that Zuma has since increased his political power, rather the process of power ebbing away from him appears to have continued. He is simply a yesterday’s man, rather than the old big man of South Africa, his political power has ebbed tremendously in the years since he resigned.

Also, one of the key elements that led to the violence two years ago was the pandemic, and the hardship experienced during the lockdowns.

Of course, it is foolish to predict the future. And it is entirely possible that many people are poorer than they were two years ago (in some cases, directly because of that violence).

That said, it seems unlikely that Zuma still has the ability to provide the “trigger event” that could lead to such scenes again.

While these debates will continue for several months, in the longer run there is a much more important conversation to have.

It’s about how to strengthen the rule of law and to make sure those who are guilty of committing acts of violence, and inciting violence, are held legally accountable. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Joe Soap says:

    Put Jacob back in jail, and anybody who breaks the law as a result of doing this. This is the only way, any other way shows we are a banana republic, in fact the best example of this on the continent.

  • Richard Bryant says:

    It’s no coincidence that JZ is in russia. It’s also no coincidence that the 5 men arrested for burning trucks in Mpumalanga and Limpopo all come from KZN. It’s also no coincidence that the construction industry mafia started in KZN.

    We need to consider the real possibility that JZ is operating a campaign to sabotage the economy and next years elections from russia with the help of putin.

    Our state security agency has become either so impotent that they don’t know what’s happening or complicit in a coordinated campaign where thugs and mafia are destabilising our economy.

  • Beyond Fedup says:

    Zuma or any other citizen is not above the law! The minute you apply it selectively, you are in very dangerous waters where the elite, the wealthy and the politically connected make a mockery of it and it filters down the line. If one looks at SA today, we are a lawless and criminal country where anything goes with no consequences and total impunity. In Zuma’s case, it is much worse and high treason – not only did he and his poodles aid, abet, encourage and profit from state capture to the very real detriment of the country, but he did everything possible, with the assistance of immoral and vile lawyers, to delay justice at taxpayers expense and continues to do so. The man is an outright thief and criminal, and belongs in jail! His age and the fact that he plays the victim should not be taken into account at all.

    • h_holt says:

      So JZ is supposedly in Russia for medical treatment. How & when did he leave RSA? Surely Home Affairs and / or whatever other body may be involved can provide this information assuming that he left the country via a legitimate port of exit. If the exit was not via a legitimate port, how was he spirited out?

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    Zuma is irrelevant, Stephen. There are many more pertinent issues in SA to be explored.

    • Jane Crankshaw says:

      Deal with the beginnings of the loose thread before the whole thing unravels – sadly Zuma should have faced the consequences of his actions when the Denel corruption was uncovered. By getting away with it, he was given license to continue until Billions of unrecoverable Rands were stolen from the taxpayers of this country and treated as Monopoly Money – all under his watch and manipulations. He might, in his uneducated mind, think of this as Radical Economic Transformation, but we know it as Theft and it must be dealt with as Theft. Go to Jail, the get out of jail free card is no longer valid!

  • J C says:

    Jacob Zuma – what a waste of time and money he has been, and continues to be. He thinks he is above the law, surely, he believes he is above the law and I want him to do his time, just like any other citizen of this country would be expected to do. However, we should starve this useless man of any more time and thought, CR should pardon him and then Zuma can be a real nobody and we can all move on.

  • Lisbeth Scalabrini says:

    Once president always president? Is it legal to continue to use that title nominating Zuma?

    • Paddy Ross says:

      What I regard as very important at this stage is for South Africans to state clearly that it will be monstrously inappropriate for Jacob Zuma to be given a State Funeral when he does eventually leave this earth. If the ANC want to fund a funeral for him, so be it but to use taxpayers money for this purpose will be the ultimate insult to the citizens of South Africa.

  • Grumpy Old Man says:

    Forget Zuma! The ANC want us to believe that he was a Cde who ‘went rogue’ Whereas he is the natural consequence of a party structure doomed by design!
    This is a political party who cannot survive without being corrupt. From the smallest Branch to the Elective Conference individual success depends on money passing hands & more than occasionally, assassination!
    Yeah JZ should be in jail but so then should the entire ANC Top 5 leadership. If not guilty of corruption themselves they are complicit!

  • Gerrie Pretorius says:

    zuma should be forgotten. He is a clever but dumb commoner. Our attention should be with the anc and every single member who supported the destruction of our country. Every single member of parliament during the jz years should be jailed for treason. They willingly and knowingly supported the election of zuma and kept him there to destruct the country.

  • Hermann Funk says:

    If Fraser’s decision to release Zuma was illegal, why is he no being arrested?

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