Johannesburg – The Constitutional Court’s scathing judgment condemning former president Jacob Zuma to 15 months’ imprisonment for contempt of court is unlikely to lead to him losing his presidential perks.
Speaking at the Defend Our Democracy campaign’s briefing following the apex court’s judgment on Tuesday, advocate Mojanku Gumbi, Zuma’s predecessor Thabo Mbeki’s former special adviser, said section 89 of the Constitution sets out the grounds for forfeiting the benefits when asked whether he should lose the presidential perks he is set to enjoy for life now that he has been sentenced to be jailed.
In terms of the Constitution, a president can lose benefits if removed through a resolution of the National Assembly adopted with a supporting vote of at least two-thirds of its members only on the grounds of a serious violation of the Constitution or the law and serious misconduct.
If removed in this manner from the president’s office, a person may not receive any benefits and may not serve in any public office.
Freedom Under Law executive officer Nicole Fritz said she did not think Zuma’s imprisonment would have any direct implication for his continued enjoyment of presidential privileges.
Acting Deputy Chief Justice Sisi Khampepe delivered the apex court’s majority judgment and sentenced Zuma to a year and three months’ imprisonment for failing comply with the court’s unanimous order in January to obey all summonses and directives lawfully issued by the commission of inquiry into state capture.
The former president was ordered to hand himself to the Nkandla or Johannesburg Central police stations within five days for their station commanders to immediately deliver him to a correctional centre to start serving his 15 months’ imprisonment.
According to the judgment, should Zuma not present himself to either of the two police stations, Police Minister Bheki Cele and national police commissioner General Khehla Sitole have been ordered to take all steps necessary and permissible in law to ensure that the former ANC leader is committed to a correctional centre within three calendar days afterwards.
Justice Khampepe said the matter was about an egregious threat posed to the Constitution’s authority, the integrity of the judicial process and the apex court’s dignity.
She said the exceptional feature that justified the punitive sanction that she impose on Zuma was the unique and special political position that he still enjoys as the former president.
”He has a great deal of power to incite others to similarly defy court orders because his actions and any consequences, or lack thereof, are being closely observed by the public. If his conduct is met with impunity, he will do significant damage to the rule of law,” Justice Khampepe said.
The ANC on Tuesday said that it was studying the judgment and indicated that it was without doubt a difficult period in the organisation. It called on its members to remain calm.
A meeting of its national executive committee is scheduled to be held this weekend and will reflect on the ruling’s implications and consequences.
”We further reaffirm our commitment to upholding the rule of law and fulfilling the aspirations of our constitutional democracy,” the governing party said.
SACP second deputy general-secretary Che Matlhako said the important lesson to be derived from the judgment was that no one is above the law.
”Everybody must submit themselves to the courts and the rule of law,” he said.
The SACP also stressed the supremacy of the Constitution and the rule of law, including the principle that no person is above the law, and called on everybody to respect the judgment.
Stefanie Fick of the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse described the judgment as a win for accountability and a good day for South Africa.
UDM leader Bantu Holomisa said the judgment was a landmark ruling and important for the rule of law in the country.
”This is a strong message that no one is above the law and is a stern warning that all South Africans should respect the courts and the laws of this country,” Holomisa said.