The recent ruling by the Constitutional Court sentencing Jacob Zuma to 15 months jail time can only be hailed as a victory for democracy and a booster for the South African economy. If one of the most powerful men in South Africa can be held accountable for their actions, then beware those who have been living off graft and corruption for the last decade.
The following extracts from the Judgement are noteworthy:
The main judgment held that an unsuspended order of committal was further justified by certain exceptional features of this matter. First, Mr Zuma’s scurrilous and unfounded attacks on the Judiciary and its members were intolerable and could not be met with impunity. Protecting courts from slanderous public statements, it was emphasised, has little to do with protecting the feelings and reputations of Judges, and everything to do with preserving their ability and power to perform their constitutional duties. Furthermore, the main judgment found that contempt is not the act of non-compliance with a court order alone, but encompasses the nature of the contempt, its extent and the surrounding circumstances. Thus, the Court was enjoined to take cognisance of the unique and scandalous features of the matter. It held that if these aspects were to be ignored, the Court would be adjudicating the matter with one eye closed, and declining to decide it without fear, as it is constitutionally mandated to do.
The main judgment further emphasised that Mr Zuma was no ordinary litigant but was the former President of the Republic of South Africa, who continued to wield significant political influence and in whom lies a great deal of power to incite others to similarly defy court orders. Thus, if his conduct were to be met with impunity, he could do significant damage to the rule of law. The main judgment held that no person enjoys exclusion or exemption from the sovereignty of the laws of the Republic. And it would be antithetical to the value of accountability if those who once held high office were not bound by the law. The main judgment emphasised the existence of a heightened obligation on the President to conduct her or himself in a manner that accords with the Constitution. Although Mr Zuma was not President at the time of his contempt, his contumacy was all the more outrageous in light of the position he once occupied. The main judgment further noted that it was not insignificant that Mr Zuma’s contemptuous conduct related to his duty to account for his time in Office. Accordingly, it was disturbing that he who twice swore allegiance to the Republic, its laws and the Constitution, sought to ignore and undermine the rule of law altogether.
The main judgment concluded that the cumulative effect of these factors was that the only appropriate sanction was a direct, unsuspended order of imprisonment.
There is no doubt that Jacob Zumas actions over the last decade have cost ordinary South Africans huge economic loss. The fish rots from the head, let’s hope this is the beginning of a massive clean-up so that we can move forward in a positive fashion.