Pretoria – Former president Jacob Zuma says his legal battles prevented him from attending the inauguration of his successor President Cyril Ramaphosa in Pretoria on Saturday.
Zuma was not at the all-important event at Loftus Versfeld Stadium, but his wife Bongi Ngema-Zuma attended.
Addressing his supporters outside the Pietermaritzburg High Court on Friday, after the adjournment of his week-long application for a permanent stay of prosecution of his arms deal related criminal charges, Zuma said he would not attend the inauguration because he was busy with his legal team.
“I am busy with lawyers, and if you don’t see me in other events you will know that this man is busy.
“Tomorrow (yesterday) statesmen and presidents will be at the president’s swearing in event while I am here in court and I don’t have time to go there because I’m busy preventing going to jail,” he said.
Zuma, who is facing 16 counts of corruption and racketeering, also did not attend Ramaphosa’s previous inauguration on February 15, last year. But he, however, campaigned for Ramaphosa ahead of this month’s general elections.
Zuma’s spokesperson Vukile Mathabela said his boss was busy with his lawyers.
“His focus this whole week has been in court, and he has been busy with lawyers yesterday (Friday) and today (yesterday),” said Mathabela.
Zuma blamed Ramaphosa’s administration for cutting off state funding for his legal costs, which he said was a breach of government policy “that says if you are facing criminal charges with regard to your government work, whether you are a minister or president, government should pay legal costs.” He said under former president Thabo Mbeki, the state paid for his lawyers.
“This new administration said it would not pay the money, as a result nothing has been paid. I have to sell even my hat or socks to pay lawyers.
“Even other political parties said Zuma should pay from his own pocket despite the policy that says the state should pay,” he said.
Zuma said the state was still paying legal costs of former apartheid operative Dr Wouter Basson.
He said he had to part ways with his former lawyers for lesser expensive legal teams. Zuma’s lawyer advocate Muzi Sikhakhane told the court on Thursday that Zuma could not afford his legal fees.
“The state is squeezing him out for him not to be able to afford lawyers. He has no finances,” Sikhakhane told the court.
One of his lawyers, who asked not to be named, said Zuma has not been paying them for many months.
“We are representing him for free and he is owing us,” said the lawyers, who could not disclose how much Zuma was owing.
As a result, KwaZulu-Natal ANC spokesperson Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu said the party would have to appeal to its members to support Zuma financially.
“The ANC on its own is an NGO (non-government organisation), which does not have funding so it would not be very easy for the organisation to financially assist.
“We call on all members of the ANC who feel the inclination to assist baba (Zuma) to come forward and assist where it is possible,” said Simelane-Zulu
She said it was unfair for the state to deprive “a pensioner financial assistance” knowing that high court matters were expensive.
Mathabela said Zuma was broke.
“The former president has never earned anything besides his salary, and yes, he is broke since he is a pensioner,” said Mathabela.
ANC Youth League provincial chairperson Kwazi Mshengu said he hoped that judges would grant Zuma a permanent stay of prosecution to rescue him from financial troubles.
But he said if the case goes on trial “it would be an issue of goodwill from people who have means to contribute”.
“President Zuma is a man who is loved by many people, and I am sure there are those who will come to contribute.
“If there is no further assistance, he would continue to lose senior lawyers who will withdraw on the basis that they are unaffordable,” said Mshengu.