During his time in office, former president Jacob Zuma did not give the impression of being overly concerned with optics. Perhaps it should not come as a surprise that he has been similarly cavalier in his choice of legal representation for his corruption case.
It was revealed on Monday that Zuma had fired his long-term attorney, Michael Hulley, and replaced him with Daniel Mantsha, who was among people who allegedly aided and abetted the controversial Gupta family in their attempt to take control of Denel, as part of the broader state-capture project.
Mantsha was appointed chairman of the state-owned arms manufacturer in 2015 and oversaw the disintegration of the once-thriving company into one that faced such a severe liquidity problem it needed a government bailout to pay staff and suppliers in late 2017.
There seems to have been some unhappiness with Hulley’s legal approach and it is unclear now what difference Mantsha will make.
He left when President Cyril Ramaphosa came to office and appointed Pravin Gordhan as public enterprises minister with a mandate to clean up state-owned enterprises.
The Gupta leaks revealed what appeared to be highly damaging correspondence between Mantsha and the Guptas about the establishment of Denel Asia. They also showed Mantsha sending the Gupta family his personal bills. Whether they paid these is unknown. Zuma and Mantsha have a lot in common — most notably their relationship with the Guptas.
On Monday, Zuma’s son and Gupta business partner, Duduzane, appeared in court on charges of corruption.
A little more than two weeks before Zuma himself is due to appear in court again on graft charges, what could be the purpose for reshuffling his legal team and firing an attorney who has represented him for more than a decade and has extensive knowledge of his case?
The change also comes after Zuma, pleading poverty earlier in 2018, terminated all briefs with counsel, meaning his long-term advocate Kemp J Kemp is also no longer in the picture — for now anyway.
The former president is claiming that without state funding he does not have the means to defend himself in court.
It is quite possible that he could use the changing of his guard to ask for another postponement when he returns to the dock on July 27. At his last appearance, Hulley had given the court an indication that by the next court appearance they were hoping to have more answers regarding Zuma’s funding issues.
The state has been funding Zuma’s legal battle since 2006, but this is being challenged by opposition parties, the DA and the EFF. The state has said it will continue to fund Zuma until a court says otherwise.
Zuma still has to file his application to review the decision to charge him and there was talk of applying for a stay of prosecution, but none of this has happened. There seems to have been some unhappiness with Hulley’s legal approach and it is unclear now what difference Mantsha will make.
Mantsha has a chequered past as an attorney. He was once a legal adviser to former communications minister Faith Muthambi, who was also caught out in the leaked Gupta e-mails for sharing sensitive cabinet information with the family.
The DA questioned Mantsha’s suitability at the time because a court had found he was not a "fit and proper person" to practise as an attorney.
Mantsha was reportedly accused of unprofessional conduct and misappropriation of funds. He was struck from the roll of attorneys in 2007, but was readmitted in 2011.
Only time will tell how Mantsha will perform as Zuma’s legal representative and whether he will be more successful than Hulley in keeping the former president out of prison.