Just before midnight on July 7, a earlier unthinkable event took position in South Africa. Previous President Jacob Zuma was taken into custody by South African police at his rural homestead in Nkandla, KwaZulu-Natal, and transported to a prison within the province where by he commenced a 15-thirty day period sentence as authorized punishment for a guilty verdict handed down by South Africa’s Constitutional Court—the country’s highest—for becoming in contempt of that courtroom.
The imprisonment of Zuma represents a triumph for constitutionalism in a area where by former liberation motion heroes, these types of as Zimbabwe’s initially democratic president, Robert Mugabe, usually grew to become neocolonial thugs who reproduced the anti-democratic abuses of the colonialists they defeated. In simple fact, the story of Zuma’s imprisonment carries numerous critical political classes for the global community, which includes for lengthy-standing constitutional democracies like the United States, Canada, and Germany.
Just before midnight on July 7, a formerly unthinkable event took location in South Africa. Previous President Jacob Zuma was taken into custody by South African law enforcement at his rural homestead in Nkandla, KwaZulu-Natal, and transported to a jail within the province wherever he commenced a 15-month sentence as lawful punishment for a guilty verdict handed down by South Africa’s Constitutional Court—the country’s highest—for remaining in contempt of that court docket.
The imprisonment of Zuma represents a triumph for constitutionalism in a region in which previous liberation movement heroes, this sort of as Zimbabwe’s 1st democratic president, Robert Mugabe, frequently grew to become neocolonial thugs who reproduced the anti-democratic abuses of the colonialists they defeated. In simple fact, the tale of Zuma’s imprisonment carries several significant political classes for the international neighborhood, which include for prolonged-standing constitutional democracies like the United States, Canada, and Germany.
The way South Africa’s Constitutional Court taken care of this case should really be emulated by high courts all-around the earth. The court was utterly unfazed by the probable political penalties of its determination, and justices simply just got on with the small business of dispassionate authorized adjudication, strictly making use of constitutional law to the facts just before them.
Justice Sisi Khampepe wrote in the vast majority judgment: “Never prior to has this Court’s authority and legitimacy been subjected to the types of attacks that Mr Zuma has elected to start from it and its users. Never prior to has the judicial process been so threatened. Accordingly, it is acceptable for this Courtroom to training its jurisdiction and assert its special authority as the apex Court and greatest guardian of the Constitution.”
Crucially, the court then asserted its obligation to punish this kind of attack on the judiciary. She additional wrote: “Not only is Mr Zuma’s conduct so outlandish as to warrant a disposal of standard procedure, but it is starting to be more and more apparent that the hurt staying brought about by his ongoing assaults on the integrity of the judicial method are unable to be fixed by an get down the line. It should be stopped now.”
And therein lies the political and lawful lesson for other international locations: Politicians will have to be created to reconcile on their own to the simple fact that they are standard users of society rather than extraordinary beings who are licensed to escape the attain of a country’s legislation.
South Africa is sad to say infamous for its stubbornly higher levels of violent criminal offense, serious inequality, reduced advancement fees, and higher amounts of joblessness. At existing, it is also experiencing a public overall health disaster with a weak vaccine acquisition and rollout technique in the confront of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The other unfavorable concept that dents the country’s standing is corruption. All through Zuma’s presidency, from 2009 to 2018, huge components of the South African state ended up hollowed out and preyed on by private pursuits in cahoots with wayward politicians and civil servants promoting their souls to the highest bidders. Domestically, the grand theft of public sources was labeled “state capture.” Zuma and the governing African National Congress (ANC) were being central to the creation of prospects for billions of South African rands to be stolen, significantly by a single spouse and children that experienced cozied up to Zuma and the ANC—the Guptas.
Thuli Madonsela, South Africa’s former community protector (a placement akin to that of an ombudsperson), requested that a commission of inquiry be established up to examine condition capture just right before her expression in office expired in 2016. This fee summoned Zuma to seem ahead of it as a witness, but on Nov. 19, 2020, when he was to solution a quantity of issues, Zuma walked out of the inquiry just after an attempt to get the commission chair, Raymond Zondo, to recuse himself failed.
From that level on, he stopped all cooperation, so the fee inevitably turned to the Constitutional Court docket to immediate Zuma to answer concerns before it. The court uncovered that the quite legitimate constitutional position of the state seize inquiry to dig for the truth of the matter about prevalent corruption could not probably do its position effectively if an individual as central to several of the allegations as the former president did not honor a lawful request from the commission to show up prior to it.
The court docket instructed Zuma to go back and testify. He continue to refused and merely did not seem on Feb. 15 as requested by the commission, backed by the Constitutional Court directive. As a substitute, he released plenty of attacks on the judiciary in general and Zondo in specific. He dug in his heels and casually asserted a willingness to go to prison instead than testify. That is when the commission went again to the Constitutional Court docket to argue that Zuma was in contempt of the get that he seem in advance of it. Zuma’s ultimate constitutional delinquency was to refuse to even file responding papers with the Constitutional Courtroom, even even though he had lots of prospect to demonstrate why he did not honor the court’s buy.
In a scathing portrayal of Zuma as “recalcitrant” and describing his assaults on the judiciary as “egregious,” “insidious,” and motivated by a wish to “destroy the rule of regulation,” the courtroom found Zuma responsible of contempt on June 29 and argued that the extent of his trampling on the authority of the Constitutional Court docket was a grave offense. Offered that he is a former president who could inspire many others to evade and disregard the administration of justice, the court docket concluded that only jail time would prevent other folks.
Zuma was even now unfazed and once more ignored the court’s get that he hand himself more than to the police to start out his sentence within just 5 times. He did not and instead known as a press meeting in which he reiterated his absence of regard for the judiciary, taken care of his innocence, and typically painted himself a target by alluding to conspiracies with no any evidence. This is why, on Wednesday night, the law enforcement experienced to aid the court by having Zuma into custody. He did not put up a battle, and, after some feared that a modest group of supporters may perhaps violently defend him, no blood was spilled. He was peacefully escorted to jail.
The most essential lesson South Africa’s response to Zuma’s abuses retains for the planet is that the principle of constitutional supremacy can be defended if there is political will to do so. Each and every particular person should be equivalent just before the law. In apply, nonetheless, politically and economically effective people also normally escape the extensive arm of the regulation. A important exam, hence, of no matter whether a constitutional democracy is truly dedicated to substantive democratic concepts and values is how it treats the strong when they are in authorized difficulty.
It is unusual for associates of the executive to be investigated, enable alone found guilty of crimes. Even though numerous international locations have imprisoned former leaders, people processes have typically been tainted by political retribution. It is rarer continue to to be identified responsible of contempt of court, permit on your own sentenced to precise time in prison. That fact by itself indicates that the judiciary succeeded in demonstrating that the South African Structure trumps politics.
For Zuma to casually overlook a legitimate Constitutional Court buy was a way of placing himself previously mentioned the law. Also quite a few political leaders have carried out so. South Africa’s thriving dealing with of his contempt of courtroom exhibits that it is achievable to judge former heads of point out pretty as common associates of culture who are not entitled to particular legal procedure.
A second lesson from Zuma’s imprisonment is that postcolonial governments do not have to have to turn into neocolonial monsters. Africa is littered with case research in which the democratic challenge, immediately after liberation, goes awry in the next or 3rd decade of flexibility. This often manifests itself in leaders’ refusals to relinquish political power when defeated at the polls. The ANC in South Africa has still to face this historic take a look at simply because it continues to be, inspite of leadership and governance weaknesses, a highly effective social movement and also has the gift of facing a weak electoral opposition. When the ANC faces imminent decline of political electrical power, South Africa will then be tested when once more.
It is much too soon to say that South Africa is a model for the international community when it comes to political accountability. Immediately after all, not a one human being has, to date, been sentenced to prison time for state capture, even with the massive sum of operate done by the commission searching into corrupt govt promotions. But it would be a mistake to downplay what the imprisonment of Zuma represents symbolically.
Zuma is not the only politician in South Africa or in the world who thinks of himself as above and outside of the regulation. And the derailing of a democracy does not occur overnight.
There is generally a sluggish decrease in democratic norms and values—and worried citizens must seem out for the red flags. Are the police inclined to do their position when they are presented cases involving politicians? Are courts eager to ship someone to prison if they offend the mores of culture, as expressed in the statutes of the nation, even if they are from a effectively-known political spouse and children? Can democratic accountability be entrenched, in particular when former liberation motion leaders are the ones who need to have to be held accountable lawfully, morally, and politically?
In Zuma’s South Africa, all of individuals purple flags have been plainly noticeable as a fledgling democracy that experienced impressed the entire world commenced to veer wildly off system. With past month’s judgment and Wednesday’s imprisonment of a previous president, South Africa has established its democracy firmly back again on monitor.