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Former president Jacob Zuma. Picture: SANDILE NDLOVU
Former president Jacob Zuma. Picture: SANDILE NDLOVU

The justice minister has let it be known that he believes the Correctional Services Act applies and may entitle Jacob Zuma to early release from prison after serving 3.75 months, being a quarter of his sentence. The calculation is correct if the act applies to the incarceration of Zuma at the instance of the state capture commission by the Constitutional Court in proceedings of a civil nature that did not involve the criminal justice administration until the arrest warrant was signed after judgment was passed.

However, there is a different way of looking at the term of imprisonment imposed. Our criminal justice system does not contemplate civil imprisonment prisoners, a unique and rare category of people. In principle, and in terms, the Correctional Services Act and the Criminal Procedure Act simply do not apply. Civil imprisonment was abolished in 1977. Civil imprisonment for contempt of court is an exception that has been kept alive to enable our courts to defend their dignity, accessibility and effectiveness. 

In principle, Zuma could probably have gained his instantaneous release by purging his contempt by apologising genuinely for his contempt of our highest court and undertaking to co-operate fully with the Zondo commission. Instead, his replying affidavit in the “rescission” proceedings set down for hearing on Monday, July 12, manifests a settled determination to stick to his defence of deceitful defiance. Whether this attitude amounts to aggravated contempt justifying further punishment, and whether the court intended incarceration for the full 15 months, are topics that should be canvassed during argument.

Paul Hoffman SC
Director, Accountability Now

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