Let's Think

Will Zuma admit that he is a “shady man”?

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A retired Constitutional Court judge has created an opportunity for President Jacob Zuma to have the court decide if it is fair to call him “shady, of dubious character, manipulative and dishonest”.

Retired Constitutional Court justice, Zakeria Yacoob, last week in a radio interview, claimed that the president has done too many dirty things, and is undoubtedly behind the Hawks’ pursuit of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan. Yacoob also used this as a platform to declare that the government of the Republic of South Africa is dishonest.

About the Gordhan affaire he said: “I think Jacob Zuma is manipulating it because he is a dishonest fellow. He has done lots and lots of dirty things, and he doesn’t want to be caught out.”

There can be little doubt that the statements by Justice Yacoob, who is a member of the #HandsoffPravinGordhan campaign, constituted solid grounds for Mr Zuma to institute a claim for defamation against him.

The previous week President Zuma complained in parliament that members were abusing him by calling him “a criminal, (and) a thief”. He also asked Speaker Baleka Mbete to do something about it.

If this “abuse” happened outside of parliament, Mr Zuma could have done something about it himself. He could have sued the particular members for defamation. However, under the rules of privilege applicable in parliament, no member can be sued for something he says in the House.

Yacoob’s position different

Justice Jacoob’s position, however, is dramatically different to that of members of parliament speaking in parliament. Even if he were to make his accusations to only a single third party besides himself and Mr Zuma, he is open to being sued for defamation.

Under the law pertaining to defamation, all Mr Zuma has to do, is make a credible case that what was said about him is intrinsically defamatory. The onus of proof then moves to Justice Jacoob as the defendant, and his only defence available under the law, is firstly to prove what he said is the truth.

Secondly, after establishing its truth, he must convince the court that it was in the public interest that this truth be shared in the public domain. Considering the high public office that Mr Zuma holds, this should be easy, if and when the first hurdle is cleared.

We think

If Mr Zuma indeed believes that he is squeaky clean in how he conducts state business, Justice Jacoob has offered him an excellent opportunity to restore his good name.

It could become a fascinating court case to follow, to hear the judge’s evidence and arguments to prove the truth of what he said, and Mr Zuma’s arguments to refute it.

For Mr Zuma not to use this opportunity would, for many, amount to him admitting that he is indeed a “shady character”.

by Piet Coetzer

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