Today’s judgment of the Constitutional Court, handed down by Justice Sisi Khampepe, finding former president Jacob Zuma guilty of “egregious” and “aggravated” contempt of court, and ordering him to serve 15 months behind bars, is a victory for the paramount importance of the rule of law.
“This is a historically significant moment,” says Karam Singh, head of legal and investigations at Corruption Watch. “For the first time in South Africa, we are seeing a former head of state held directly accountable by way of a prison sentence, for his refusal to submit himself to the commission or to the jurisdiction of the ConCourt in this matter. Indirectly this speaks to his culpability in presiding over a period of state capture that has had lasting and damaging effects on the country.”
The judgment is momentous as it upholds the fundamental constitutional principle that all are equal before the law. It will act as a substantial deterrent to those who have thought nothing of making scurrilous and contemptuous statements about the Constitutional Court and the judiciary in general.
In addition to the custodial sentence, there is a cost order against the former president, ordering him to pay the legal costs spent by the state capture commission in having him jailed for contempt, on a punitive scale.
Justice Khampepe emphasised that it was under his presidency that the alleged corruption and malfeasance took place, hence the public interest in the matter. The former president has repeatedly stated that he would rather be imprisoned than comply with the commission’s order.
This blatant violation of the Constitutional Court order to appear before the commission left the court with no other option but to rule him in contempt.
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