Zuma sentenced to 15 months in jail for being in contempt of court

Justice Sisi Khampepe handed the down the judgment on Tuesday morning, saying court considered an unsuspended jail team of two years but that this matter was extraordinary.

FILE: Former President Jacob Zuma at the state capture commission on 17 July 2019. Picture: Abigail Javier/EWN

JOHANNESBURG - The Constitutional Court has sentenced former President Jacob Zuma to 15 months in jail.

It said he was in contempt of court when he failed to appear and participate at the state capture inquiry.

Justice Sisi Khampepe handed the down the judgment on Tuesday morning, saying court considered an unsuspended jail team of two years but that this matter was extraordinary.

“The Constitutional Court holds that there can be no doubt that Mr Zuma is in contempt of court. A judgment order was handed down in favour of the applicant [the Zondo commission]. Mr Zuma was served with the order, and it is impossible to conclude anything other than that he was unequivocally aware of what it exactly required of him. Never before has the authority of the Constitutional Court been threatened, never before has the judiciary been threatened."

The Constitutional Court is the highest court in South Africa, which means Zuma cannot appeal this ruling through the national judicial system.

Zuma has been ordered to submit himself to Nkandla Police Station or the Johannesburg Central Police Station in five days.

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Justice Khampepe said: “Not only has Mr Zuma failed to dispute the contempt of court, he has also failed to contest the decree of the contempt. Instead, he has aggravated it, the majority judgment orders an unsuspended sentence of imprisonment for a period of 15 months.”

In the event Zuma does not submit himself to the South African Police Service (SAPS) as required, the minister of police and national commissioner of SAPS must within three calendar days of the expiry of the first five days to take the necessary legal steps to ensure he is submitted to a correctional facility.

It said by failing to appear before the state capture commission as ordered by the court and making disparaging and scandalous statements about the court to impugn its integrity, Zuma had grossly violated the rule of law.

“Although Mr Zuma is no longer president, his conduct flies in the face of the obligation he bore as president, and it is also not insignificant that Mr Zuma’s contemptuous conducts relate to his duty to account for the time that he was in office. It’s inextricably linked to his constitutional as an office bearer.”

It said if the court didn’t send a strong message, he could influence others to do the same in defiance of the Constitution and the rule of law.

The court said as a former president, he had a heightened obligation to uphold the law.

He has also been ordered to pay the legal costs of the case.

FROM THE ARCHIVES: Former President Zuma & state capture: A timeline

The commission of inquiry is headed by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo.

The panel was set up by Zuma himself, under pressure over mounting scandals, shortly before he was ousted in 2018 by the ruling African National Congress (ANC).

But he only testified once, in July 2019, before staging a walkout days later and accusing the commission's Zondo of bias.

He then ignored several invitations to reappear, citing medical reasons and preparations for another corruption trial.

He presented himself again briefly in November but left before questioning, and Zondo asked the Constitutional Court to intervene.

Most of the graft investigated by the commission involve three brothers from a wealthy Indian business family, the Guptas, who won lucrative government contracts and were allegedly even able to choose Cabinet ministers.

Zuma is separately facing 16 charges of fraud, graft and racketeering relating to a 1999 purchase of fighter jets, patrol boats and military gear from five European arms firms for R30 billion.

At the time of the purchase, Zuma was former President Thabo Mbeki's deputy.

He is accused of accepting bribes totalling four million rand from one of the firms, French defence giant Thales.

FROM THE ARCHIVES: Jacob Zuma at state capture inquiry: I don’t know. Clears throat. This is unfair

Additional reporting by AFP.

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