Zuma's bruising year in the courts

Jacob Zuma
Image: Jackie Clausen.

It has been a turbulent year in courts for President Jacob Zuma.

Three cases related either to his official functions as head of state or personal interests dealt the president a series of body blows during 2017.

The latest landed in the final weeks of the year when a full bench of the High Court in Pretoria ordered Zuma to pay legal costs from his own pocket.

Zuma wanted to review and set aside remedial action recommended by former public protector Thuli Madonsela in her report into complaints of alleged improper conduct by Zuma‚ some state functionaries and the Gupta family.

The full bench found that the remedial action taken by the Public Protector was lawful‚ appropriate‚ reasonable and rational.

Madonsela had recommended that Zuma appoint a commission of inquiry into allegations of state capture and that Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng should appoint the judge to head the inquiry.

Zuma was of the view that this remedial action was unlawful as the Constitution did not assign this power to the Chief Justice.

But the high court found that the president was implicated in the "State of Capture" report and was at the centre of the allegations regarding the Gupta family's involvement in the appointment of cabinet ministers.

“Any person chosen by the President to head the commission would therefore not be perceived as independent‚” the court said in its judgment.

It said there was much force in the argument that Zuma should recuse himself from appointing a judge in order to exclude any perception of bias and to protect the integrity of the commission in the eyes of the public.

The Democratic Alliance‚ which was one of the parties which opposed Zuma’s review application‚ estimated the legal costs that Zuma will have to pay from his pocket to be in the region of R6-million.

In October‚ the Supreme Court of Appeal dismissed Zuma’s appeal against a high court judgment passed in 2016. That judgment set aside a decision made in 2009 by then acting National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP) Mokotedi Mpshe to discontinue the prosecution of Zuma on serious criminal charges‚ including charges of racketeering corruption and fraud.

In its judgment‚ the Supreme Court of Appeal quoted poet TS Eliot in describing the case as “the recurrent end of the unending”.

Judge of Mahomed Navsa said it was doubtful that a decision in this case would be the end of the continuing contestations concerning the prosecution of Zuma‚ who was first charged in 2005.

And on December 8 the High Court in Pretoria set aside a settlement agreement that Zuma entered with former NDPP Mxolisi Nxasana.

It declared that the appointment of current NDPP Shaun Abrahams was invalid and set it aside.

The court also found that Zuma may not appoint‚ suspend or remove the National Director of Public Prosecutions or someone in an acting capacity.

The court also gave Zuma's deputy‚ Cyril Ramaphosa‚ 30 days to find a replacement for Abrahams.

Corruption Watch and Freedom under Law brought this application to review and set aside the R17.3-million settlement agreement between Nxasana‚ the president‚ and minister of justice.

Zuma has applied to the full bench of the high court for leave to appeal Friday’s judgment in the Supreme Court of Appeal.

Following the judgment‚ the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution asked the Constitutional Court to hear the confirmation proceedings on the appointment of a new National Director of Public Prosecutions urgently.

Would you like to comment on this article or view other readers' comments? Register (it’s quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.