…Of Presidents, Sick Notes & Paid Judges

By Pinky Khoabane

JUDGE Dhaya Pillay issued a warrant of arrest, stayed until May 6 2020, for former President Jacob Zuma following his no-show in his criminal trial yesterday. At issue was the authenticity of the medical certificate which his lawyers presented as evidence of why the former president wasnt in court. 

Zuma wasnt the only person who did not to pitch though, even the familiar face of the head of his legal team in recent months, Advocate Muzi Sikhakhane wasnt around. He was representing Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane in her case against President Cyril Ramaphosa on the Bosasa report which the latter is trying to have set aside. Mkwhebane found the President had violated the executive ethics code when he misled Parliament on the donation made by Gavin Watson of Bosasa to his CR17 campaign ahead of the ANC National Elective Conference in 2017. Donations into the CR17 campaign run into the hundreds of millions and some of the donors have found their way in Ramaphosa’s administration and state owned entities. 

In Sikhakhane’s place was Advocate Dan Mantsha who could barely explain some key issues on the medical certificate or aspects of Zuma’s condition to convince the court that he was too ill to attend. 

Judge Pillay questioned key aspects of the medical note:

– The first was an alteration to the date of January 6 on the document. “There is an alteration to the date in this document but there is no signature near it,” Judge Pillay said.

– The second was the fact that there was no reference to Zuma’s military physician’s practice number. “There is a number here, but it is not labelled as a practice number at any point.” The physician is Dr ZK Motene. 

– Third, the term “layman’s diagnosis with consent from the patient” – this was a phrase that Mantsha could not explain. “What does this mean?” Judge Pillay asked. She said it was puzzling. 

– Her final note was that Zuma’s medical condition was not described in the letter, merely only saying “medical condition”. “This tells us very little,” Judge Pillay said.

Like everything in our country, more so that which involves Zuma, there were several versions of conspiracy theories peppered with omissions from the court ruling which only fuelled the frenzy and ignited ill-informed social media analyses.

Initial media reports omitted the fact that the arrest warrant was stayed until May 6 when Zuma was scheduled to make his next court appearance. And so in our minds or at least those of us on Twitter, there was a perception created that the hunt for Zuma was on. There was a brief lull on both sides of the Zuma divide (those for or against him) as it emerged that the 77-year old was still a free man – whether here or outside the country wasnt quite clear. A free man he certainly was.

His enemies, bitterly disappointed that he wasnt about to take up the orange overalls of prisoners, vented their anger at a useless judiciary that had pronounced on an empty arrest warrant. 

His supporters, breathing a sigh of relief undoubtedly, were scathing at a judge who had issued a warrant simply to “humiliate him”. “Why issue a warrant that you’re not going to effect?” “It’s simply to humiliate the man and for purposes of media coverage”. 

The timing of the two court cases – Zuma on one hand and MkwhebanevRamaphosa – came into play. Zuma’s supporters said the tv blackout of the Ramaphosa case “was so that the warrant of arrest could have maximum effect on the minds of the people”.  

The most inept participant in the saga, Adv Mantsha joined in the outrage and lashed the court for not believing that Zuma was sick and accused the court of “persecuting” him with the arrest warrant. In my view this is the team that let the former president down. By submitting a piece of document that was incomplete in an effort to save their client from prison is unforgivable. To then argue that their client is a victim when it is their sloppiness that led to the arrest warrant should be punishable by imprisonment – if anybody should have been arrested yesterday, it is this legal team.  To still come out of court and mumble some incoherent statements and be believed and applauded by some tells you the gullibility of some in our land. 

Something must be said about the deterioration in the calibre of lawyer that has come to represent Zuma. With his financial woes, mounting by the day, the former president is left with the likes of Mantsha. The massive numbers that attended the court cases, inside and outside court, have dwindled. The JZ social media fans remain strong but the question is whether they are putting their money where their mouths are and donating towards his legal campaign – they seemingly are not doing near enough. 

In the battle for or against former President Jacob Zuma is a fierce media campaign lodged by establishment media and his supporters on social media. The establishment media have long decided Zuma is the villain and have conceded they colluded with opposition parties to try and oust him. On social media, the judges who have ruled against Zuma are being targeted as corrupt judges paid by Ramaphosa. These judges have disputed claims of corruption and Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng some months back, said in the absence of evidence he believed his colleagues. 

List of judges said to be on the payroll of CR17 campaign that is circulating on social media

Incidentally, the bank statements relating to the CR17 campaign have been sealed by a court of law following the President’s request. The continued allegations against these judges will never be put to rest unless these documents are made public. But there’s an even bigger question for democracy if these documents are not made public – it is in the interest of the public to know who funds politicians and donor influence on politicians. 

It is just as important for the maintenance of democracy that citizens have faith in the judiciary. These are tenets of the social contract between governments and the people which if broken, lead to chaos. 


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