IBAHRI condemns former South African president Jacob Zuma’s non-compliance with apex court order

Friday 9 April 2021

The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) condemns former South African president Jacob Zuma’s non-compliance with a Constitutional Court of South Africa order to appear before the Commission investigating corruption allegations made against him. The Court’s 28 January 2021 order was handed down after Mr Zuma walked out of proceedings on 19 November 2020, without permission from Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo who is leading the corruption probe.

IBAHRI Co-Chair and former Justice of the High Court of Australia (1996–2006), the Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG stated: ‘As a former president who swore an oath to uphold South Africa’s Constitution, it is incumbent upon Mr Zuma to comply with the Constitutional Court’s order, as well as cooperating with the Commission. It is crucial that he not set a precedent placing himself above the law. The IBAHRI calls on Mr Zuma to obey the Court’s ruling.

Mr Kirby added: ‘Upholding the rule of law and the proper administration of justice is of vital importance. So too is the separation of powers, which must be guaranteed to ensure executive accountability for current and former constitutional officeholders, and to provide justice for all South Africa's citizens. To protect democratic principles and to uphold the Constitution, the Constitutional Court of South Africa will be obliged to mark this breach of lawful duty with condign sanctions. No constitutional court can permit any citizen, least of all one who formerly held the highest elected constitutional office in the land, to defy the orders of the highest court in the land.

In 2018, shortly before Mr Zuma was forced to step down as head of state by his party, the African National Congress, amid mounting allegations of graft, the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture, Corruption and Fraud in the Public Sector including Organs of State (the Commission) was established to look into allegations that Mr Zuma presided over an extensive network of corruption while president. The Commission is focusing in particular on ‘state capture’ – a pervasive form of corruption where individuals or organisations seek, through bribery, to influence the formation of a country’s laws and policies, to protect and promote influential private interests.

It is alleged that lucrative state contracts were won and undue influence exerted over state matters by Mr Zuma’s allies due to their close relationship to him.

On 28 January 2021, the Constitutional Court held that Mr Zuma was obliged to attend and participate in the Commission’s proceedings and that he could not claim the right to remain silent. Rejecting this ruling, Mr Zuma refused a summons to appear before the Commission as a witness, prompting the chief investigator to seek a two-year prison sentence for Mr Zuma for contempt of court. This is the first time in South Africa’s democratic history that a contempt of court order has been sought through the Constitutional Court.

Mr Zuma issued a 12-page statement on 15 February accusing the Commission Chair, Judge Zondo, of ‘propagating political propaganda’ against him ‘to influence public opinion’, ‘misleading the nation’ and of ‘not following due process to the prejudice of himself and his family.’ The statement also accuses the Commission of ‘being unable to conduct an independent, fair, and impartial investigation into state capture’, and lambasts the South African judiciary, alleging, without evidence, that many judges are ‘captured’ and have over years been conspiring against him.

IBAHRI Co-chair and Immediate Past Secretary General of the Swedish Bar Association, Anne Ramberg Dr Jur hc, commented:‘As an organisation established to defend the rule of law, and remembering always that its first honorary president was Mr Zuma's predecessor, Nelson Mandela, the IBAHRI feels specially obliged to raise its grave concern over Jacob Zuma's unfounded attacks on the South African judiciary. These are an affront to the standing of the courts in South Africa and to the rule of law, upon which Nelson Mandela repeatedly insisted. Mr Zuma's stated refusal to abide by the decision and order of the Constitutional Court of South Africa requires condemnation. Far from being excused by his former office of president, that very office compounds the seriousness of his defiance. It is why it cannot be excused or ignored.’


Notes to the Editor

  1. The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), established in 1995 under Founding Honorary President Nelson Mandela, is an autonomous and financially independent entity, working to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession worldwide.
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  3. The International Bar Association (IBA), the global voice of the legal profession, is the foremost organisation for international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Established in 1947, shortly after the creation of the United Nations, it was born out of the conviction that an organisation made up of the world's bar associations could contribute to global stability and peace through the administration of justice.
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