The Constitutional Court has reserved judgment in former President Jacob Zuma’s rescission application.
Zuma was convicted and sentenced to 15 months in jail for contempt of court for defying an apex court order to appear before the Commission on State Capture.
Monday’s hearing was an almost day long legal battle at the Constitutional Court with others arguing to have South Africa’s former president in jail and others arguing for his release.
Representing Zuma in his rescission application, Senior Counsel Advocate Dali Mpofu said his client was convicted and sent to jail without trial, insisting this is reminiscent of the apartheid South Africa. But Advo Thembeka Ngcukaitobi, for the commission, said Zuma in fact squandered his opportunities to state his case and chose to make disparaging remarks and insulted the court and justices of the apex court. This sentiment was also shared by representative of the Helen Suzan Foundation advocate Max Du Plessis, who said Zuma deliberately missed the opportunity by refusing an offer to appear before the commission and the Constitutional Court.
But Adv Mpofu was adamant that Zuma’s sentencing by the Apex Court was unconstitutional, as some of his rights were limited if not totally ignored.
All eyes are now on the justices of the highest court in the land to rule whether Zuma will soon be home or he will serve his jail term until his parole period after three months.
The former president’s incarceration has sparked violence in parts of the country, which continued overnight despite President Cyril Ramaphosa’s address calling for calm and restraint.
Meanwhile, violent protests have dealt a body blow to South Africa’s efforts to rebuild the economy in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and pose the sternest test yet to President Ramaphosa’s authority.
The widespread looting and social unrest that followed the imprisonment of Zuma is damaging business confidence, has disrupted key trade routes and seen businesses from banks and supermarkets to small-time traders shutting their doors. The army has been deployed to help police quell the unrest, which has claimed the lives of 10 people and seen almost 500 arrested.
“The disquiet about Zuma’s arrest is being used as an excuse for sheer, opportunistic looting,” said Busisiwe Mavuso, the CEO of Business Leadership South Africa, which represents many of the country’s biggest companies. “The anarchy on the ground puts yet another nail in our ailing economy’s coffin.”
The violence erupted in the eastern province of KwaZulu-Natal after Zuma was taken into custody on July 7 and quickly spread to the country’s commercial hub of Gauteng. The turmoil has highlighted divisions within the ruling African National Congress and the tenuous hold Ramaphosa has over the party.
Members of Zuma’s family have endorsed the violence on social media as has his foundation, which has repeatedly decried his conviction. Zuma has fanned discontent by complaining that charges against him are politically motivated, undermined Ramaphosa and dismissed claims of graft during his rule that his successor has said cost the state more than 500 billion rand ($35 billion).
“What is going on is sedition. It is a direct attack on the authority of the state. It is fuelled by the very powerful people within the ANC who are about to be side-lined,” said Mary de Haas, a violence researcher at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s law school. They “are using the language of incitement to get people to loot businesses,” she said.
On July 10, trucks were torched in KwaZulu-Natal, leading to the closure of the N3, the highway linking sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest port in Durban to the economic hub of Johannesburg. It’s also the start of trucking routes used to transport of goods as far north as the Democratic Republic of Congo.
On Monday, gunshots and circling helicopters could be heard in Chatsworth on the outskirts of Durban, and residents called for barricades to be set up to prevent their properties from being looted.
More than 200 shopping malls had been looted by mid-Monday afternoon and retailers had lost an estimated R2 billion, according to Mavuso.
President Ramaphosa appealed for calm in a televised address on Monday night, his second in two days, and warned that the riots posed a severe threat to food security and were disrupting efforts to inoculate people against the virus that causes COVID-19.
“What we are witnessing now are opportunistic acts of criminality, with groups of people instigating chaos merely as a cover for looting and theft,” he said. “The poor and the marginalized will bear the ultimate brunt of the destruction that’s currently underway.”
The rand weakened as much as two percent to 14.5058 against the US dollar on Monday, the most since February 25.
“We are deeply concerned about the riots, violence and risk to people and property,” said Martin Kingston, vice-president of Business Unity South Africa. “Business confidence is severely undermined as a consequence of these developments.”
“We are facing the consequences of 15 years of decline in state capacity, efficacy and efficiency,” said Claude Baissac, the head of Eunomix Business and Economics Ltd, which advises on political risk. “This is tinder for social explosion.”
President Ramaphosa has difficult decisions to make.
To bolster investor confidence and protect the economy, he needs to demonstrate a robust response as evidenced by his deployment of the army. But a crackdown could further fuel unrest, especially among those sympathetic to Zuma and his allies.
Already he may have erred.
President Ramaphosa has twice said some of these acts of violence are based on “ethnic mobilisation”. Zuma has in the past played on the fact that he is a Zulu, the biggest ethnic group in South Africa, with his supporters at times wearing “100% Zuluboy” T-shirts.
The ANC has had a complicated relationship with the Zulu people. Prior to the end of apartheid, supporters of the Inkatha Freedom Party, a Zulu nationalist party, fought bloody battles with ANC supporters in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.“I would be very careful in South Africa before you characterize along those lines,” Ralph Mathekga, a political analyst and author of books about South African politics, said in reference to President Ramaphosa’s comments. “I would be very cautious in legitimising some sort of ethnic cleavage.” – SABC-Bloomberg