“It is the lofty and lonely work of the judiciary to uphold, protect and apply the Constitution and the law at all costs”
Former President Jacob Zuma has been found guilty of the crime of contempt of court by the Constitutional Court of South Africa, the apex court in the land, and sentenced to 15 months imprisonment, without suspension.
In February this year Former President Zuma defied a court order by the Constitutional Court to appear before the Zondo Commission in the Inquiry into the State Capture. The Inquiry is investigating allegations of corruption during Zuma’s nine-year rule. The Commission requested that the Constitutional Court order Zuma to appear before the Commission and answer its questions. The order was granted but Zuma defied the order and failed to present himself to the Commission. The Commission laid a criminal complaint of contempt of court against Mr Zuma earlier this year.
In its judgment delivered by Justice Khampepe, the Court ruled that Mr Zuma is guilty of contempt of court, that his conduct was ‘vexatious, conduct reprehensible, it smacks of malice’. The Court found that Zuma was aware of the consequences of his conduct, and his disobedience was calculated and male fide. There was accordingly, no doubt in the Court’s eyes that Mr Zuma is guilty of contempt. The Court sentenced Zuma to 15 months imprisonment, ordering him to hand himself over to police within five calendar days of today. The Court also ordered that if Zuma does not hand himself over, the minister of police and national commissioner must, within 3 days, take all the necessary steps in law to ensure Zuma is delivered to a correctional centre.
Zuma’s contempt of the highest Court in the land, and subsequent attacks on the integrity of the Constitutional Court, have challenged the authority of the Constitutional Court and undermined its integrity. Justice Khampepe commented, ‘Never before has the authority and the legitimacy of the Constitutional Court has come under the level of attack as it has from Mr Zuma’.
The Constitutional Court has a duty to defend the Constitution and the rule of law – the fundamental concept that no man or woman is above the law. In addition to defying its order, Zuma has made a number of ‘scandalous’ remarks about the Constitutional Court over the past few months. Zuma’s conduct was deemed ‘A series of direct assaults, as well as calculated and insidious efforts launched by Mr Zuma to corrode its [the Court’s] legitimacy’ which ‘besieged’ the Constitutional Court. Khampepe noted that Zuma’s conduct in defying a court order undermines the rule of law, the authority of the Court, and may inspire others to do the same. This, coupled with the extraordinary circumstances of the case and Zuma’s past conduct, caused the Court to order a sentence of 15 months imprisonment, without suspension. The order is, furthermore, not subject to appeal.