The year 2021 was fraught with many challenges, but one of the most challenging in terms of politics and the law was the arrest of former President Jacob Zuma.
The apex court in the land, the Constitutional Court was split with a majority and minority judgment on the arrest of Zuma.
The former President’s arrest was met with violent protests in KwaZulu- Natal with trucks burnt, shops looted and economic sabotage.
“We return to the commission under extraordinary conditions, Mr Zuma has left, I have been told. Mr Zuma had been issued with a summons to be here until he is excused by me. He has left today without asking me to be excused. This is a serious matter. It is a pity that he has elected to leave without asking for permission,” said Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo at the State Capture Commission.
Those scathing words uttered by the State Capture Commission of Inquiry Chairperson Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo were preceded by former president’s Zuma walk-out at the commission’s sitting after the chairperson had refused to rescue himself.
Zuma continued with his defiance, not only of the Commission but also a directive by the ConCourt that he must appear before the commission.
“This can’t adequately capture the damage Mr Zuma has done to the integrity of the judicial system and ultimately he owes this sentence to violating the constitution he once vowed to uphold,” said Acting Chief Justice Sisi Khampepe.
The Constitutional Court found that the former President had an obligation to protect the constitution but failed to do so.
The majority viewed Zuma as someone who portrayed himself as a victim. “No person is above the law and no person whatever is their rank or condition is subject to the ordinary realm of the law and amenable to the jurisdiction of its tribunals and defiance has the potential to cause a constitutional crisis then our constitution is not the paper is written on,” said Khampepe.
The Majority Judgement said the court had been left with no alternative, but to incarcerate the former head of state.
“I am left with no option but to commit Mr Zuma to imprisonment with a hope of doing so sends an unequivocal message in this on the constitution and the rule of law prevails,” said Khampepe.
Zuma had to hand himself over to a police station within five days, failing which the Minister of Police was expected to make an arrest.
“It is declared that Mr Zuma is guilty of being in contempt of court. Mr Jacob Zuma is sentenced to fifteen months of imprisonment. Mr Zuma must hand himself over in the next five days, failing which the Minister of Police and Police Commissioner must arrest him.”
The Constitutional Court judgment on the Zuma vs Zondo matter :
But the former President was once again defiant and launched a rescission application at the Constitutional Court. Zuma showed his power, surrounded by amabutho who arrived in Nkandla to defend their leader.
In another political show of force, Zuma also thanked the thousands of African National Congress members who came to support him.
“I had told myself that we would be on top of each other with the police when they come to arrest me but when I saw you here I thought when will they get to me when you are here, where will they pass here. I want to thank you on that one.”
Former president Jacob Zuma addresses his supporters at his home in Nkandla:
However, Zuma’s wish to stay out of jail was not to be. The order still stood and Zuma had to be escorted by a Blue Light Convoy to the Estcourt Correctional Services Centre.
Zuma’s political foe and once ally, who served under him as Deputy President of ANC and the country, did not have an opportunity to speak to him before his incarceration.
“No, I didn’t have an opportunity to speak to former President Zuma before he handed himself over, we regarded that as a process that must be handled in the normal cause. The occasion never presented itself,” said Cyril Ramaphosa.
Post Zuma’s arrest, the province of KwaZulu-Natal went up in flames, with trucks burnt, shops looted and other violent incidents.
Adding salt to the wound, the Constitutional Court rejected the former president’s rescission application regarding his fifteen months’ prison sentence.
“Elected absence of Mr Zuma constitutes more than litigate skullduggery, which does not have the rights of overturning a competently granted order into one erroneously granted it is not for these circumstances that the law of rescission caters.”
“To entertain Mr Zuma’s application in these circumstances will allow him to blow hot or cold, it would fly in the face of interest of justice for a party to be allowed to willfully refuse to participate in litigation and then expect an opportunity to reopen the case when it suits them, it is not in the interest of justice to tolerate this litigious vacillation.”
Zuma was to be saved by his long-time ally, the former State Security Agency Director-General, now National Commissioner of Correctional Services Arthur Fraser who released him on medical parole.