9 powerful quotes from the contempt of court judgment against Jacob Zuma

In a strong judgment, the Constitutional Court ripped Jacob Zuma apart for defying his presidential oath to protect SA's Constitution.

FILE: Former President Jacob Zuma in the Pietermaritzburg High Court where he appeared on corruption charges on 15 October 2019. Picture: AFP.

JOHANNESBURG - Former President Jacob Zuma will be the first South African president to put on orange overalls and spend time in jail.

Zuma was sentenced to 15 months in prison by the Constitutional Court for refusing to appear before the state capture commission and defying the apex court’s ruling to do so.

In a hard-hitting judgment, the court ripped Zuma apart for defying the presidential oath he took twice to protect the Constitution.

The court ruled that Zuma placed it in an “exceptional position”, where it was forced to grant an order that vindicated its honour and protected and maintained public confidence in the legitimacy of the judiciary.

He was given five days to report to either Nkandla Police Station of Central Johannesburg Police Station - or face arrest by next Wednesday.

The majority judgment was delivered by acting chief justice Sisi Khampempe.

These are some of the most important quotes of the judgment. You can read the full judgment here.

1.On testing the strength of the judiciary
“I pen this judgment in response to the precarious position in which this court finds itself on account of a series of direct assaults, as well as calculated and insidious efforts launched by former President Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma, to corrode its legitimacy and authority. It is disappointing, to say the least, that this court must expend limited time and resources on defending itself against iniquitous attacks. However, we owe our allegiance to the Constitution alone, and accordingly have no choice but to respond as firmly as circumstances warrant when we find our ability to uphold it besieged.”

2. On the Constitutional Court safeguarding the rule of law and avoiding risk that Zuma would inspire or incite others to similarly defy the courts
“Not only is Mr Zuma’s behaviour so outlandish as to warrant a disposal of ordinary procedure, but it is becoming increasingly evident that the damage being caused by his ongoing assaults on the integrity of the judicial process cannot be cured by an order down the line. It must be stopped now. Indeed, if we do not intervene immediately to send a clear message to the public that this conduct stands to be rebuked in the strongest of terms, there is a real and imminent risk that a mockery will be made of this court and the judicial process in the eyes of the public.”

3. Remedial discretion: a coercive order vs punitive order
It is unbecoming and irresponsible of a person in Mr Zuma’s position to wilfully undermine the law in this way. Mr Zuma had every right and opportunity to defend his rights, but he chose, time and time again, to publicly reject and vilify the Judiciary entirely. I have already detailed the lengths to which this court has gone in this matter to safeguard Mr Zuma’s rights despite his insolence towards this court. Consequently, there is no sound or logical basis on which Mr Zuma can claim to have been treated unfairly or victimised by this court. His attempts to evoke public sympathy through such allegations fly in the face of reason. They are an insult to the constitutional dispensation for which so many women and men fought and lost their lives.

"In these truly peculiar circumstances, it is impossible to see how either the public’s interest in Mr Zuma’s testifying before the [Zondo] commission, or this court’s own interest in vindicating its integrity, would be satisfied by making a coercive order. If anything, a coercive order, likely only to be further defied, would plunge the integrity of this court into even deeper waters."

4. Disagreement from Justice Chris Jaftha, with concurrence from Justice Leone Theron on the punitive order from the minority judgment, which agrees that Zuma is in contempt of court
"This solution will no doubt resonate with those who, understandably, wish to see Mr Zuma face punishment for his contempt of this court, but it is a solution I cannot support. In my view, if a coercive order of committal will likely be inappropriate, the proper order would be an order referring the matter to the [Director of Public Prosecutions] so that Mr Zuma’s case can be tried according to criminal standards and subject to the necessary protections."

5. The relevance of Zuma’s position as former president
“Mr Zuma’s conduct that led to and has persisted throughout these proceedings is all the more outrageous when regard is had to the position that he once occupied. Although Mr Zuma is no longer president, his conduct flies in the face of the obligation that he bore as President. It is disturbing that he, who twice swore allegiance to the Republic, its laws and the Constitution, has sought to ignore, undermine and, in many ways, destroy the rule of law altogether.”

6. Concluding remarks on sanction
“The cumulative effect of these factors is that Mr Zuma has left this court with no real choice. The only appropriate sanction is a direct, unsuspended order of imprisonment. The alternative is to effectively sentence the legitimacy of the judiciary to inevitable decay."

7. Deciding on an appropriate sentence
“In other words, the focus must be on what kind of sentence will demonstrate that orders made by a court must be obeyed and, to Mr Zuma, that his contempt and contumacy is rebukeable in the strongest sense. With this in mind then, I order an unsuspended sentence of imprisonment of 15 months. I do so in the knowledge that this cannot properly capture the damage that Mr Zuma has done to the dignity and integrity of the judicial system of a democratic and constitutional nation.”

8. Why it was decided that Zuma should pay the legal costs
"This application should never have been before this court because Mr Zuma had no justifiable basis to abandon his regard for the law and pursue the route that he did. The fact that Mr Zuma committed contempt of court is, on its own, worthy of this court’s rebuke. But when this contempt is considered alongside the derisive statements and disdainful attitude that Mr Zuma has adopted towards this court and the Judiciary in general, it is without question that the extraordinary award of punitive costs is warranted."

9. Parting shot on unsubstantiated attacks on the judiciary
“This inexcusable state of affairs cannot be tolerated or encouraged. Let me be perfectly clear: it is not permissible for a disgruntled litigant to besmirch the reputation of the Judiciary or its members without fear of consequence. This is not the status quo in our constitutional democracy, and it is patently undesirable that an influential figure, like Mr Zuma, should be allowed to exhibit such behaviour. This is not the first time that Mr Zuma’s malevolent attitude towards the Judiciary has attracted punitive costs, but I sincerely hope that it will be the last.”

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