Battle lines drawn as Zuma medical parole matter heads to SCA

This is on the back of legal challenges from the DA, the Helen Suzman Foundation (HSF) and AfriForum.

FILE: Former South African President Jacob Zuma removes his eyeglasses as he addresses the media at his home in Nkandla, KwaZulu-Natal on 4 July 2021. Picture: Emmanuel Croset/AFP

JOHANNESBURG - According to the Democratic Alliance (DA), the only explanation for former statesman Jacob Zuma's release from prison on medical parole is that he received special treatment because of who he is.

Zuma’s protracted battle to wriggle out of his prison time continues next month in the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA).

The first case on the SCA’s roll when its third term commences on 15 August, is an appeal from Zuma and the national correctional services commissioner against the Pretoria High Court’s ruling that set aside then prisons boss Arthur Fraser’s decision to grant Zuma medical parole.

Zuma was granted medical parole last September, after serving just two months of the 15-month prison sentence he got slapped with for contempt of the Constitutional Court last June.

The Medical Parole Advisory Board had recommended that Zuma not be released citing that he was “stable” and didn’t meet the requirements set out in the Correctional Services Act, which state that in order to qualify for medical parole, an offender must be “suffering from a terminal disease or condition or if such offender is rendered physically incapacitated as a result of injury, disease or illness so as to severely limit daily activity or inmate self-care”.

But then Fraser overruled the board, in his reasons he said Zuma was “79-years-old and undeniably a frail old person,” who suffered from “multiple comorbidities,” requiring “specialised treatment outside the Department of Correctional Services”.

He also cited a dissenting report from one member of the board.

Judge Elias Matojane subsequently set aside Fraser’s decision, finding he had acted unlawfully by flouting the board’s recommendation.

He ordered Zuma’s return to prison, ruling, in addition, that the time he had since spent on the outside not be considered time served.

This is on the back of legal challenges from the DA, the Helen Suzman Foundation (HSF) and AfriForum.

Both Zuma and the commissioner were granted leave to appeal the ruling, though, and the matter has been set down for hearing on 15 August.

In the papers, the DA’s lawyers maintain Fraser’s decision was “patently unlawful”.

“The commissioner granted medical parole against the recommendation of the medical parole advisory board. He was not permitted to do so. The board is a specialist body made up of doctors. If it recommends against medical parole, the commissioner is not permitted to grant it,” they said.

They said the decision was also irrational.

“The commissioner claims that he made the parole decision because Mr Zuma needed to be close to tertiary medical care. But he then sent Mr Zuma to Nkandla, which is hundreds of kilometres away from the nearest tertiary hospital,” they said.

“The only way in which the parole decision makes any sense is if it was granted for the reason that the public suspects that Mr Zuma received favourable treatment because of his political standing.”

The DA also wants the SCA to censure Zuma for describing the party - together with the other applicants in the high court case as, among others, “proto-racist rightwing organisations”.

In his papers before the high court, Zuma went on a tirade accusing the three organisations of having racist
motives, which the DA labelled “scandalous and vexatious” as well as “unbecoming” of a former president.

In Zuma’s affidavit, he had said the case was “a thinly-veiled political stunt aimed at cheap electioneering, racist hatred, opportunism and the unwanted attention of busybodies”.

He had also charged that the three applicants were all “white-dominated and proto-racist rightwing organisations whose mission in life is to mock the current black-dominated government”.

Zuma had further suggested they were “apartheid apologists who nostalgically hanker for the good old days when black people, especially Africans, were treated as sub-humans,” and that they were “seeking a judicial lynching of their political opponent or enemy”.

Over and above denying the claims, the DA’s legal team in its papers before the SCA described them as “baseless invective” that “coarsens our national dialogue” and undermined the dignity of the court.

“We submit that it would be appropriate for this court [SCA] to admonish Mr Zuma for it,” they said.

Zuma, meanwhile, in his papers before the SCA maintains his criticism of what he describes as the “underlying political agenda behind the application”.

“We do not accept their review application as being legitimately based on the public interest but only on the sectarian interests of their minority constituencies,” they read.

He stuck to his guns, insisting the application was only brought to “abuse the court for the political interests of the DA and HSF”.

“In its political campaigns, the DA has made its goal to scandalise Mr Zuma’s medical condition by creating unnecessary political controversy over whether he has a terminal medical condition,” his papers read.

“Casting doubts and scandalising of Mr Zuma’s medical condition without any contrary medical evidence is an irresponsible abuse of the court. These respondents are using the courts to harass Mr Zuma and to continue the political narrative that he has corruptly obtained an undeserved medical parole”.

The national commissioner, for his part, continued to insist that releasing Zuma “into the care of his family with the advanced medical support from the South African Military Health Service medical team was the best option compared to keeping him in hospital for a considerable and unforeseeable period of time at a considerable cost to the Department [of Correctional Services] and the state”.