THE hospitalisation of former president Jacob Zuma could be a ploy to prevent him from appearing in court on Tuesday.
This was according to political analysts after Zuma was released from his prison cell at the Estcourt Correctional Services facility on Friday for admission to an undisclosed hospital for medical observation.
Zuma, a 79-year-old convicted criminal, was sentenced to 15 months’ imprisonment for contempt of the Constitutional Court after he refused to appear before the commission of inquiry into state capture, chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo.
In his bid to avoid being imprisoned, Zuma, through his application for rescinding his sentencing, stressed that prison could be harmful to him, owing to his age and health.
The Constitutional Court is yet to issue a judgment on that application which was heard on July 12.
Singabakho Nxumalo, a spokesperson for the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) said the health of inmates was addressed under Section 35(2) of the Constitution.
“This obliges the DCS to ensure that ‘everyone who is detained, including every sentenced prisoner, has the right to conditions of detention that are consistent with human dignity, including at least exercise and the provision, at state expense, of adequate accommodation, nutrition, reading material and medical treatment’.”
As a former president, the healthcare needs of Zuma require the involvement of the South African Military Health Services. This has been the case since his admission to the Estcourt Correctional Centre. A routine observation prompted Zuma to be taken for in-hospitalisation,” said Nxumalo.
As Zuma was expected to return to the Pietermaritzburg High Court this week for the arms deal corruption case, it was only the doctor’s report following his medical observation that would give the green light for him to attend.
But political analyst Thabani Khumalo said this could be another one of Zuma’s tricks to avoid going to court. He said Zuma had applied every delaying tactic which showed that he was not ready for his day in court.
The court was expected to rule on his application for the state prosecutor, Billy Downer’s, recusal.
“My understanding is that the court will rule on his application then the matter will continue for four days. He had applied every available tactic to delay the court proceedings, it will not be surprising if this was another ploy,” said Khumalo.
Another political analyst, Ralph Mathekga, said Zuma’s timing for his medical observation could be questioned based on his previous behaviour and views.
“Yes, at his age, you would expect that he required constant medical attention, but the timing leaves questions about whether this is a genuine medical condition.
“His character in the application of the law and legal proceedings has been very evasive. So it always raises eyebrows when such things happened at the time when he had to go to court. He had utilised every avenue to delay the proceedings, his views and utterances make one wonder whether his health condition is genuine,” said Mathekga.
Zuma’s legal team had applied for the matter to be heard in his presence at the court rather than a virtual hearing which would have been safer due to Covid-19 regulations. The court ruled in his favour last week.
While Zuma, according to the DCS, would be eligible for parole when he has served at least a quarter of his 15 months’ sentence, there was speculation that he might be released sooner owing to his health.
Professor Bheki Mngomezulu, a political analyst, said this might not be the case as Zuma has been unwell even before his incarceration.
“I do not think his health condition will be considered to grant him parole sooner because he has been unwell for some time. That would have been considered even before his incarceration, if it was a factor.
“However, should his health get worse he can exercise his constitutional right to apply for medical parole like Schabir Shaik (Zuma’s former financial adviser who was convicted for fraud) did. But I do not think these medical observations could be linked to the parole sooner than expected,” said Mngomezulu.
However, Khumalo said Zuma’s medical observation could give more weight to his parole application when he became eligible.
“This will work in his favour when he completes his first quarter, there will be no grounds for the state to deny him parole, especially given his age and health.
“This medical observation will form part of his records, I believe that even before his imprisonment there were records showing that he required constant medical observation,” said Khumalo.
As of yesterday, the outcome of Zuma’s medical observation was still unclear.
Nxumalo said he was still hospitalised and that the department would issue a statement once he had returned to his prison cell.
The Jacob Zuma Foundation had called for calm following Zuma’s medical observation.
In a brief statement, the foundation said Zuma was attending his annual medical routine check-up and there was no need for alarm.
On another update yesterday it said: “The foundation wishes to communicate to all that we are still awaiting a report from the doctors. We'll keep you posted on the developments. Please keep him in your prayers.”
Meanwhile, according to sources who spoke to our sister publication the Sunday Independent, Zuma was meant to go to either Cuba or Russia for medical treatment after Easter but chose not to.
The source said that Zuma did not want his detractors to think that he was running away from facing corruption charges relating to the arms deal. Sunday tribune