Former president Jacob Zuma and President Cyril Ramaphosa pictured together in 2017.
- Judgment has been reserved in an application for an urgent interdict by President Cyril Ramaphosa to halt his predecessor Jacob Zuma from instituting a criminal private prosecution against him.
- Judgment will now be handed down on Monday.
- Ramaphosa’s legal team is adamant that Zuma’s private prosecution is being brought to settle ulterior political scores.
The South Gauteng High Court has reserved judgment until Monday in President Cyril Ramaphosa’s application for an urgent interdict to halt former president Jacob Zuma’s private prosecution of him.
The adjournment came after a lengthy legal battle before a packed courtroom on Thursday.
Zuma is seeking to privately prosecute advocate Billy Downer and News24 specialist legal writer Karyn Maughan for allegedly violating the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) Act by sharing court documents – filed by Zuma’s lawyers and the State – that contained a sick note from the former president’s military doctor.
Both Downer and Maughan have lodged applications to have that private prosecution declared an abuse of court process.
Zuma has argued that Ramaphosa’s failure to investigate this alleged violation made him an accessory after the fact.
In court, Ramaphosa’s legal team argued that Zuma had ulterior political motives in instituting the private prosecution.
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It said the private prosecution was overflowing with political implications, and urged the court to grant the urgent interim interdict to spare Ramaphosa damage that could arise from a wrongful prosecution.
Ramaphosa’s lawyer, advocate Ngwako Maenetje, told the court that there is a “strong political undertone” in the case.
“My client will suffer clear harm. With great respect, this application has a lot of political innuendos and is premised on Mr Zuma instituting unlawful criminal proceedings,” said Maenetje.
He argued that the proceedings were flawed as the formal certificate issued by the NPA did not apply to his client.
Maenetje said the certificate was granted before there was any implication of wrongdoing by Ramaphosa.
“The NPA ascertained that the charges… were allegedly committed on 9 August 2021. Mr Zuma only notified Mr Ramaphosa of an alleged crime having been committed later that month,” he said.
Zuma’s legal representative, advocate Dali Mpofu, argued that it was for that reason that his client had accused Ramaphosa of being an accessory after the fact and had not accused the president of committing, or being an accomplice to, the alleged crime.
Maenetje countered that Zuma’s private prosecution was still flawed as the awarding of a certificate by the NPA to prosecute privately ought to be given on the grounds that the prosecuting authority had access to the charge and declined to prosecute.
“In this case, no charge against my client was deliberated on by the NPA and not prosecuted,” said Maenetje, adding that for it was for that reason the private prosecution “fails to comply with the jurisdictional requirements”.
Maenetje said should the private prosecution be allowed, Ramaphosa could suffer irreparable damages.
He said the ANC’s step-aside rule was still at play, and should Ramaphosa attend a court of law where he was the accused, he risked being asked to step aside by the party.
He would not only be asked to step aside as ANC president but also as the president of the state.
Maenetje added that such a development would not have implications only for his client but would have a negative impact on the country and the performance of the rand.
When there was talk of Ramaphosa possibly stepping down in December, following the release of the Section 189 report, the rand fell by 23%. However, it quickly recovered when the ANC announced that the president would not resign.
Mpofu argued that the threat of Ramaphosa being asked to step aside was already at play because he was criminally charged. It was disingenuous that his appearance would trigger it in court. He also rubbished an argument that a public representative may not be charged for failing to do their job, saying this is misleading.
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He used the example of a traffic officer asking for a bribe, saying that any citizen could privately prosecute the officer and not the minister of transport.
As such, Ramaphosa is being prosecuted in his personal capacity and not as head of state.
Maenetje said Mpofu’s argument was false as Ramaphosa was served with the court papers after Zuma had approached him in his capacity as president to reporting the alleged leaking of his medical records.
Zuma then, according to Maenetje, decided that Ramaphosa had failed to act and accused him of being an accessory after the fact.