When the rule of law flows, former presidents can experience jail time. 

Much is said about “a week in politics”, and what a week we just experienced! After two days of Ace Magashule in court on his “step aside” case last week, the Constitutional Court presented society with a judgment that took most people pleasantly by surprise. The content therein was scathing and clear, ensuring that Jacob Zuma’s contempt of court conduct received a relatively stiff sentence of 15 months jail time and within quick time. 

There is no doubt that a significant step forward has been taken to rebuild civil society’s confidence in the rule of law, and a resounding signal has been sent about the strength and independence of our criminal justice system. In the words of Acting Chief Justice Sisi Khampepe, “contempt of court proceedings exist to protect the rule of law and the authority of the judiciary.” She also pointed out “the vigour” with which Zuma peddled his “disdain of this Court and the judicial process”, and quite rightly pointed out that it “carries the further risk that he will inspire or incite others to similarly defy this Court, the judicial process and the rule of law.”

Today, the nation stands a little taller and somewhat prouder. Certainly the nation stands a lot more confident about the journey of accountability that appears to at last be flowing. However, despite our strong Constitution, most of the people we engaged with over the past few years believed the ruling party did not have the courage to allow their two term president to eventually be shackled and clad in orange. And who could blame them, having witnessed nearly two decades of Stalingrad tactics to keep Lady Justice at bay. 

At OUTA, we have always believed that if the rule of law was indeed meaningfully applied, Jacob Zuma would eventually go to jail. As too will Ace Magashule and many other perpetrators who have been central to the looting of the state’s coffers. Zuma’s new-found plight was however self-inflicted, and he could have dodged this outcome had he simply answered the questions put to him at the State Capture Commission.

Over the coming days we should not be fooled by appearances from the radical cabal.  The hordes will be bussed in, and play to the media, they will.  The reality, however, is that Zuma’s popularity is waning and his supporter-base is dwindling. In a couple of weeks they will move on, believing that the State has dealt their master an unfair blow. They will lose any rational debate, and my advice to them is to read the judgement objectively. It’s straight forward and simple. And law, that applies to everyone.

This judgment has reminded us of what the rule of law looks like, something that Jacob Zuma has denied millions of citizens from witnessing for almost a decade of his tenure as president of the country. However, it is the longer jail time sentences that many look forward to. Zuma’s role in the arms deal and his brazen conduct as the kingpin of state capture, along with the billions lost to undeserving recipients, can never be forgiven. There are many cases that will flow through the NPA, following mountains of evidence gathered at the Zondo Commission and elsewhere, which is why we were pleased with the recent three-month extension granted to the commission in order to finalise its painstaking work. 

For now, we celebrate, and for the next few days we will smile at the whining from Zuma’s spin doctors. We will see through the deceit of populist comments such as “I am not afraid of jail; I’ve been there before” and “the establishment has betrayed me.” Deep down the vast majority will know very well that Mr Zuma would prefer to be sipping tea and chuckling with his chums at Nkandla.