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ConCourt reserves judgment on Jacob Zuma’s bid to have prison sentence rescinded

By Kailene Pillay | IOL |

The Constitutional Court has reserved judgment on an application to review its landmark decision to jail former president Jacob Zuma for contempt of court.

Jacob Zuma spends first night in prison after turning himself in to police
Former South African president Jacob Zuma

The ConCourt on Monday sat for more than 10 hours to hear an urgent application brought by Zuma seeking the rescission of its decision to sentence him to 15 months’ imprisonment for contempt of court.

He was sentenced to jail on June 29 and was given five days in which to hand himself over to the police and Correctional Services officials for his failure to obey a January Concourt order to appear before the Commission of Inquiry into allegations of state capture.

The state capture commission argued that the recently incarcerated statesman had no intention to testify at the commission, had publicly announced that he had no interest in participating in the commission and had persisted with his contempt – so his case should be dismissed.

This was the argument made by Advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, who represented the commission, which opposed Zuma’s Constitutional Court bid to rescind its imprisonment judgment.

Ngcukaitobi has also told the bench of judges that Zuma’s arguments that he was of an advanced age, suffered deteriorating health and that it would be detrimental for him to be imprisoned given the Covid-19 pandemic “were factors Mr Zuma always knew about”.

“Zuma always held the keys to his own prison door,” Ngcukaitobi said.

He argued that “all of this” could have been avoided if only Zuma accounted for his time in office.

“Today we have persistent contempt. You are told to revisit your order, no contrition, no apology, nothing, just consistent, brazen contempt,” he said.

Ngcukaitobi said in these circumstances, for the interest of justice, the Constitutional Court should dismiss the application “in clear, unambiguous terms”.

Ngcukaitobi said Zuma’s constitutional rights were in no way undermined by the contempt ruling given against him.

Earlier, Zuma’s legal head, Advocate Dali Mpofu, told the bench of Constitutional Court judges that he would advise Zuma to appear before the state capture commission and called for them to release the former statesman.

Mpofu said that since the term of the commission had been extended to September, Zuma could still appear before the inquiry – even though he still held the view that Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo was biased against him.

But, Ngcukaitobi said that the commission had never stated that Zuma could not testify because it was due to conclude in March. He said the commission said, at the time, that should the court compel Zuma to appear at the Inquiry, it would make the necessary arrangements.

“But Mr Zuma explicitly told us he would not comply,” Ngcukaitobi said.

Mpofu argued that Zuma has been denied his right to appeal by the Constitutional Court and maintained that he should have been criminally charged and tried for contempt in a magistrate’s court – which would have allowed him to appeal any ruling made against him.

One of the nine judges hearing the application, Judge Zukisa Tshiqi, asked whether the rescission relief that Zuma sought was available to someone who deliberately did not participate in proceedings or oppose the contempt proceedings knowing full well the commission was seeking his imprisonment.

Mpofu argued that even though Zuma did not oppose the case, it did not mean that he forfeited his constitutional rights or his right to a fair trial.