The Pietermaritzburg high court has issued a warrant of arrest for former President Jacob Zuma after he failed for appear for his corruption trial on Tuesday.
However, Judge Dhaya Pillay stayed the warrant until 6 May – the date the trial is set to resume. This means Zuma will not be arrested until then.
Zuma’s lawyer, Dan Mantsha, produced a medical note, apparently from a military hospital, as evidence that Zuma was too ill to attend court.
Pillay questions medical note
However, Pillay questioned various aspects of the note, including the date, an apparent alteration on it, and the fact that it could not be immediately established if the person who had signed it was in fact a registered medical practitioner.
She said while it may well be that Zuma was unwell, what the court required was incontrovertible and verified evidence to that effect. She said Zuma’s legal team had failed to provide such evidence.
Pillay added, “It is standard practice that if an accused is not in attendance, if an accused has failed to produce a medical certificate, and in this case, counsel for Mr Zuma was notified in advance in the middle of January that this document or some evidence is required to justify his absence in court and without that evidence, this court cannot do anything else but issue a warrant of arrest.”
The state, led by Advocate Billy Downer, had earlier made similar arguments that Zuma’s legal team was given ample time to prepare his medical certificate.
The state similarly wasn’t persuaded by the veracity of the note produced by Zuma’s team and urged the court to issue the warrant.
Judge Pillay said it was important to demonstrate to the public that it was not according the former president preferential or unequal treatment.
However, speaking outside court after the adjournment, Mantsha said the medical note they had produced was written as per “standard military procedure.”
He argued that the court had shown no compassion for Zuma, who he said had been hospitalised first in Durban and then abroad.
Zuma’s trial dates back to 2005 and relates to the controversial arms deal contract of the 1990s.
The state claims he had a corrupt relationship with his former financial advisor Schabir Shaik, who was convicted in 2005 for corrupting him.
In that case, the state successfully argued that he had facilitated a R500,000-a-year bribe for Zuma from French arms group Thales.
The state further argued that in return, Zuma was to offer Thales “political protection” from investigation into the arms deal. The former president has steadfastly denied any wrongdoing.