JZ: back to jail or gentle retirement?


JZ: back to jail or gentle retirement?

Should Jacob Zuma return to prison, or should the president grant him a pardon? This is not a simple question, writes MAX DU PREEZ.


COME on, he's already 81, and we're sick and tired of Zuma dramas. If it will prevent more violence and instability, let the old man retire peacefully in Nkandla. He is no longer a significant political factor and is not a danger to others, right?

Yes, it is the easy way out and surely not an unreasonable position to take. South Africa should not be a vengeful and cruel state.

A similar question could be asked about peace in Ukraine: wouldn't it be better to save thousands of lives and prevent further human suffering and destruction by giving back the land Russia annexed in violation of international law? That is surely the only path to a swift peace. And what is more important than human lives?

In America, there is a strong feeling among conservatives that former president Donald Trump should not be prosecuted for his role in the Capitol attack or his illegal possession of secret documents. Again, the fear that his core supporters will resort to violence is being used as an argument.

The facts surrounding the Zuma case, in brief: The Constitutional Court sent him to prison for 15 months for contempt of court. He'd only been behind bars for 59 days when the then-commissioner of correctional services, Arthur Fraser, tore up the parole board's recommendations and unilaterally placed him on medical parole.

The supreme court of appeal later declared that parole irregular and said Zuma must return to prison to serve his sentence. The Constitutional Court recently confirmed this but decided the new commissioner of correctional services must decide whether the time Zuma spent on parole should be taken into account. If so, he has served his entire sentence; if not, he must spend at least another two months in a cell.

The Correctional Services Act gives the president the power to suspend any prisoner's sentence or place them on parole, whether that prisoner is otherwise entitled to it or not.

The public still doesn't know Zuma's medical condition, but he and his legal team painted a picture of a very sick old man who might die if he had to return to prison.

It is certainly relevant how Zuma behaved during his “medical parole". It was clear from media coverage that he was not and is not close to his deathbed. He attended and addressed political meetings energetically, was elected chair of the SA National Civic Organisation in KwaZulu-Natal, and recently travelled to Zimbabwe to represent Belarus at a carbon credits conference. His daughter Duduzile posted photos of him on more than one occasion, boasting about how fit and lively Zuma still is.

The leader of the EFF, Julius Malema, explained the position of Zuma's supporters well when he said it would be a “grave injustice" if Zuma had to return to prison “because of his age and historical contribution to the country".

News24 quoted Malema: “We have reached a point where we must choose peace over all these types of things that we are talking about. To say, no-one is above the law. Zuma served. It’s enough! Why do you still want to burn this country after this person has served? He has served. It is enough."

Of course, it is relevant that Zuma is already 81 (he was 79 when sent to prison) even though he has been treated with great care and had access to good medical assistance at Estcourt prison, which is not far from Nkandla.

But the argument that his role as a freedom fighter and later as president should be considered cannot be valid. Everyone is equal before the law, declares article 9 of the constitution. It is a sacred principle, especially in the prevailing political culture.

There is no better candidate than Zuma to underscore this point. No-one before him has acted as if they are above the law to the extent that he has. His Stalingrad tactics in his numerous legal battles, his refusal to testify before the state capture commission, his contempt for an order of the apex court and his vicious attacks on that and other courts are examples of this behaviour.

Should we consider a possible repetition of the anarchy and looting of July 2021, when he was imprisoned, as a reason why he should be allowed to walk away?

South Africa's stability is precious. The anarchy of 2021 claimed 350 lives and caused damage put at billions of rand. We can hardly afford a repetition of that.

However, it would create an extremely dangerous precedent that politicians or even organised crime (and the line between the two is very blurred these days) could simply threaten violence to subvert justice. I can imagine how a party such as the EFF or a group like the taxi industry could abuse this threat.

If the violence of 2021 was planned by Zuma or his inner circle, which is likely, softer treatment now due to fear of repetition would mean the tactic worked.

Constitutional expert Prof Pierre de Vos writes on his website, constitutionallyspeaking.co.za, that it would be wrong to consider the events of July 2021 and the fear of a repetition. “To the extent that there may be a link between these two events, it points us to the pressing argument against Mr Zuma’s early release from prison. This relates to the nature of the conduct for which he was punished and the threat this posed to the entire legal order and the rule of law."

The commissioner of correctional services, Makgothi Samuel Thobakgale, will be under great pressure to decide that Zuma's time on parole should count. It feels irrational to me — the parole was declared illegal by the court, so he was not actually on parole, right? And Zuma's behaviour during his “parole" indicates that he never took it seriously, just like his old partner in crime on “medical parole", Schabir Shaik.

Whatever Thobakgale decides, Zuma will have to return to his cell according to the court's decision, even if he is released shortly afterwards.

But he is in Russia, supposedly because medical care is better there than in South Africa — something that is demonstrably untrue. It is no secret that he has close ties with the GRU, Russian military intelligence.

As long as Zuma is unsure whether he has to return to prison, he may not be eager to come back. The GRU will surely have a dacha available for him. It would also mean he would evade his corruption case, which has been dragging on for many years and is before court again shortly.

President Cyril Ramaphosa is also under pressure, especially from KZN, to pardon Zuma. I think that would be a historic mistake. He should stay completely out of the case.

Jacob Zuma was the captain of the SS State Capture. He set back the natural development of his country by decades by flogging pieces of the state to benefactors and by hollowing out state institutions to allow him and his criminal associates to evade justice. He made a mockery of the rule of the law.

Put him in the hospital wing of a prison if he does return from Russia, give him healthy food and access to doctors, but I believe it is important, at least symbolically, that he does not get away scot-free again.

♦ VWB ♦

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