Defiant Zuma Says S.Africa Court Convicted Him Without Trial
(Bloomberg) -- Former South African President Jacob Zuma, who is facing a 15-month jail sentence for contempt, accused the nation’s top court of unfairly convicting him, and said he feared that the judicial system was being compromised.
“I’m very concerned that South Africa is fast sliding back to apartheid-type rule. I am facing a long detention without trial,” Zuma told reporters at his rural homestead in Nkandla in the eastern KwaZulu-Natal province on Sunday. “‘I have a duty and obligation to ensure that the dignity and respect for our judiciary is not compromised by sentences that remind our people of the apartheid days.”
Zuma ruled South Africa for almost nine scandal-marred years until the ruling party forced him to step down in 2018 to stem a loss of electoral support. The government estimates that more than 500 billion rand ($35 billion) was stolen from state coffers under his watch, and dozens of witnesses who’ve testified before an inquiry headed by acting Chief Justice Raymond Zondo have placed the ex-president at the center of the looting spree.
The Constitutional Court on June 29 found Zuma, 79, guilty of violating its order to testify before Zondo, but on Saturday it agreed to consider his application for the judgment to be reviewed and scheduled a hearing for July 12.
The former president also brought a case in the KwaZulu-Natal division of the High Court to have the Constitutional Court’s decision rescinded. That will be heard on Tuesday. Lawyer’s for Zondo’s panel argued in an answering affidavit that the court has no jurisdiction to hear the case.
Zuma, who refused to participate in the original Constitutional Court proceedings, denied having done anything wrong and said the tribunal failed to take his age and ill health into consideration when it decided to incarcerate him.
“I am not asking for sympathy but justice,” he said. “If it was up to me, I would once again go to jail for my beliefs as early as today, whether I come out alive or not, but I have never operated as an individual and am therefore guided by views from my family and comrades.”
Zuma didn’t respond to a question as to whether he will hand himself in to the authorities should his review application fail. He called on his supporters to use peaceful means to protest against the injustice that he said he had suffered.
A large contingent of his supporters, a number of whom carried traditional spears and sticks, gathered on Sunday outside his homestead and vowed to resist any attempt by the police to apprehend him. The sound of sporadic gunfire could be heard, but there were no immediate reports of violent clashes, injuries or arrests.
The National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure, which coordinates the actions of the security forces, said it had stepped up its presence in KwaZulu-Natal because rules aimed at containing the coronavirus were being violated. Anyone who endangered people’s lives or organized or participated in public gatherings, which are banned, will face criminal charges, it said in a statement.
The ANC’s top leadership postponed a meeting planed for the weekend to focus on quelling tensions in KwaZulu-Natal, where Zuma has a strong following among his Zulu ethnic group. There is a need for the ANC “to give clear and principled leadership to ensure the maintenance of the rule of law and to avoid any violence, injury, or loss of life,” the party said in a July 2 statement.
When asked by journalists if he would meet with the ANC’s top brass or national executive, Zuma answered, “why should I meet them? They should meet me. I am not the cause of this problem.”
The party’s highest decision-making structure, the national executive committee, is currently locked in a special meeting where the possibility of the former president’s arrest is likely to be discussed. Senior leaders have been pushing for a “political intervention,” which could involve talks with Zuma to try and convince him to comply with the court and to keep his supporters in check. Various delegations of senior party members previously failed to convince Zuma to appear before the judicial probe.
Zuma, who spent a decade in prison for opposing White-minority rule, said he had never intended to defy the law and was merely appealing for fairness and consistency.
“I am not scared of going to jail for my beliefs,” he said. “It will not be for the first time. I will be a prisoner of conscience.”
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