Despite the best efforts of Jacob Zuma and his counsel, Advocate Dali Mpofu SC, neither the former President's nemesis and prosecutor, Billy Downer SC, nor legal journalist Karyn Maughan were forced to suffer the indignity of sitting in the dock as common criminals during yesterday’s hearing on Zuma’s private prosecution of the pair.

Nor was KZN High Court (Pietermaritzburg) Judge Nkosinathi Chili convinced by Mpofu's arguments that Downer and Maughan must be ordered to appear when the private prosecution returns to court on 9 April 2024.

Chili directed ‘that the parties will be represented by their respective legal representatives on the day.’

However, lawyers for Downer and Maughan did not succeed in getting the case struck from the roll, as they had hoped, with Chili adjourning the matter to a 'holding (date) to April next year.

The postponement was to allow the finalisation of Zuma’s appeals against scathing judgments that the private prosecution was an abuse based on ulterior motives to delay his arms deal-related corruption trial and get Downer removed as lead prosecutor, notes a TimesLIVE report.

Three judges in KZN also found there was no merit in Zuma’s charges that they had contravened the NPA Act when Downer allegedly leaked a document, containing his personal medical details, to the journalist.

They set aside the summonses. 

Zuma then lodged an application for leave to appeal this ruling, which resulted in the automatic suspension of the judgment. Downer and Maughan then secured another court order, putting that order in effect, pending appeal. In terms of the Superior Courts Act, Zuma exercised his right to automatically appeal that to the SCA.

Last month, in another scathing judgment, that court rejected his appeal.

Zuma now says he is appealing this in the Constitutional Court – and insisted Downer and Maughan appear in court yesterday in the private prosecution because, he claimed, it was still very much alive. 

Mpofu was seething when Downer and Maughan were allowed to sit in the gallery.

However, Advocate Andrew Breitenbach SC, for Downer, and Advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi SC, for Maughan, argued that the SCA ruling had essentially done away with the private prosecution because it had confirmed the KZN ruling putting the order doing away with the summonses into effect.

They also argued it was ‘the end of the road’ for Zuma with regards to the execution order because the law did not allow for a further appeal to the Constitutional Court.

Their clients, they said, were thus no longer ‘accused persons’ and Zuma could only revive his private prosecution should his appeals against the main (KZN) judgment succeed.

After hearing argument, Chili said in circumstances where constitutional rights were at stake it would not be appropriate or just to force Downer and Maughan to sit in the dock.

‘It is better to err on the side of caution,’ he said, rejecting Mpofu’s application.

The next issue was whether the private prosecution should be removed from the roll or adjourned and under what circumstances. Mpofu insisted the Constitutional Court would give Zuma leave to appeal and rule in his favour.

He described the SCA decision as being ‘so bad’, reports TimesLIVE.

He said he did not want the private prosecution to ‘fizzle away’ and there was no legal basis for it being removed from the roll.

He suggested it be adjourned until 9 April next year to allow the finalisation of the appeals and that Downer and Maughan be directed to appear in court on that day.

But again Breitenbach and Ngcukaitobi argued the appeal to the Constitutional Court was a nullity and their clients should not even be in court that day, let alone on any other occasion.

Chili adjourned the case until 9 April, ordering only legal representatives had to attend court.

Full TimesLIVE report

See also a News24 report