Tricky way forward in Zuma saga

Former president Jacob Zuma has to go back to jail.
STOCKING FILLER? Former president Jacob Zuma has to go back to jail.
Image: SANDILE NDLOVU

As if a highly contagious variant of Covid-19 isnt bad enough, President Cyril Ramaphosa, and by extension the rest of SA, now has once again to deal with the Jacob Zuma factor.

Gauteng high court judge Keoagile Elias Matojane, ordered earlier this week that Zuma should not have been granted medical parole and must return to prison to serve the rest of his sentence.

The devastating judgment delineated what many suspected.

The then national commissioner of correctional service, former spy boss Arthur Fraser, misused his position to grant the former president medical parole.

Fraser’s reasons ranged from shaky medical reports to the assertion that it was “unprecedented for a former head of state to be incarcerated” and if parole had not been granted this could have occasioned violence.

The judge said Fraser did not have the power to decide the parole and had relied on poor reports from doctors who had not made clear whether Zuma suffered from a chronic condition or a terminal illness.

He ruled that Fraser’s decision was unlawful.

Unsurprisingly, Zuma’s legal team wants to appeal. So does the correctional services department.

This is an arena of legal technicalities, but the conundrum facing Ramaphosa is both ethical and political.

Many question the decorum of incarcerating an elderly former president.

However, judge Matojane is correct to say that Zuma is no innocent party.

The ex-president, who presided over state capture in SA, “defied the Zondo commission, the judiciary and the rule of law and is resolute in his refusal to participate in the commission’s proceedings”.

SA remains haunted by the spectre of the devastating rioting that occurred earlier this year in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, purportedly in support of Zuma, and the extraordinarily lacklustre approach of the SA Police Service at the time.

The country cannot afford a repeat performance if he returns to prison.

But neither can it afford to be held hostage by Zuma supporters and the Radical Economic Transformation faction of the ANC.

It is important for SA not only to say it is a constitutional democracy governed by the rule of law but to demonstrate it, and this judgment is in line with this.

It asserts that no-one is above the law, illegal action by senior officials cannot be countenanced and the administration of justice matters.

It is unlikely that Zuma and his supporters will meekly concur, so it is up to Ramaphosa and his government to chart the way forward.

That will require wisdom.

It will also demand backbone, something that has so far been sorely lacking in the Ramaphosa presidency.

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