South Africa’s judiciary central in 2023 political matters

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In 2023, South Africa’s judiciary took centre stage in resolving contentious political disputes, with legal battles involving high-profile figures shaping the year.

Three notable cases highlight the intersection of law and politics during this period.

The prevalence of lawfare, the use of legal systems to address political conflicts, featured prominently in key litigations throughout the year. Among the significant legal battles was the private prosecution initiated by former President Jacob Zuma against his successor, President Cyril Ramaphosa. Zuma accused Ramaphosa of neglecting to address the alleged leak of his health records during the corruption trial in the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) division of the High Court.

Ramaphosa’s team dismissed the summons as a “distraction,” with Presidency Spokesperson Vincent Magwenya characterising it as a minor irritant. Despite obtaining an interdict against the private prosecution, Ramaphosa faced ongoing court dates to keep the matter on the roll.

Zuma vs Ramaphosa:

Another legal clash involved the suspension of then-Public Protector Advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane. Initially challenged and overturned in the Western Cape High Court, the suspension was later reinstated by the Constitutional Court.

The court concluded that Ramaphosa suspended Mkhwebane without prejudicing her, emphasising that the suspension was precautionary, allowing her to remain on full pay and attend to her defence in the ongoing inquiry.

The third matter making headlines was the International Criminal Court’s issuance of a warrant of arrest against Russian President Vladimir Putin, coinciding with the approaching BRICS Summit in Sandton.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) sought legal guidance, fearing a repeat of the Al-Bashir incident. However, the matter was dropped after the Presidency announced Putin would not physically attend the summit.

As South Africa heads into a highly contested general election this year, the question remains whether the judiciary will once again be called upon to mediate in potential political disputes.

Only way SA can avoid arresting Putin is to withdraw from ICC: