What is best described as a case of poor planning by the defence team resulted in their client being issued with a warrant of arrest, which will be stayed until the next appearance on 6 May 2020. By Desiree Erasmus

It should have been among the most irrelevant court appearances in the ongoing saga involving fraud and corruption charges against former president Jacob Zuma, but his defence managed to turn a simple adjournment into an hour of debate over a « so-called medical certificate » bearing the stamp of the South African National Defence Force’s One Military Hospital.

What is best described as a case of poor planning by the defence team resulted in their client being issued with a warrant of arrest, which will be stayed until the next appearance on 6 May 2020 where a credible explanation is expected to be given. 

The Tuesday appearance in the Pietermaritzburg High Court was effectively a holding date in the hope that trial dates may be discussed. However, due to outstanding judgments from the Supreme Court of Appeal, which Zuma has petitioned to have the charges set aside, and another petition made to the Constitutional Court by Zuma’s co-accused arms manufacturer Thales, the only logical conclusion was another postponement.

Zuma was not present and the medical « sick note » his defence attorney Daniel Mantsha handed to the court provided Justice Dhaya Pillay and prosecutor Advocate Billy Downer SC with little reason to believe the validity of the certificate. Furthermore, Mantsha provided no medical witnesses to speak to the note, or supporting documentation.

To compound matters, Mantsha had ignored correspondence sent to his office on 16 January 2020 by the National Prosecuting Authority asking for medical evidence speaking to the purported illness of Zuma. He had informed the NPA the day before that Zuma would be out of the country seeking medical attention on the hearing date.

The actual « sick note » presented by Mantsha provided no supporting documentation on who the attending doctor was, simply calling him «ZK Motene ». Alongside the purported illness not disclosed to the court was a « layman’s diagnosis ».

A call by Daily Maverick to One Military Hospital’s human resources department confirmed that a Dr ZK Motene worked for the Presidential Medical Unit.

Pillay went at length to try to diagnose the medical certificate while Mantsha, who appeared to know very little about it, insisted it must be accepted because it had « an original stamp » from the hospital.

He also told the court that the health of a former president  « is a matter of national security and a matter of our armed services », followed by what can be referenced as a « third force » jibe.

« It is absurd for the state to doubt the admissibility of a medical note by our military unless the prosecution team does not represent the same state [in which] this military resides, »  said Mantsha.

He said Dr Motene was with Zuma in the yet to be disclosed jurisdiction.  

« This quest for warrant of arrest is spiteful and vindictive and persecution of Mr Zuma, » said Mantsha.

He said if the court issued the warrant « the people will ask what kind of courts are these where there is no sensitivity », adding that the public knew Zuma was « an elderly man seeking medical treatment ». 

Advocate Billy Downer SC, acting for the state, dismissed the notion that the court was being vindictive.

Instead he told the court that it was « extraordinarily uncollegial to leave unanswered pertinent invitations from the state, in good faith, to be able to assist the court with medical evidence to explain his absence from court today ». He called the note a « so-called medical certificate », adding that there was no supporting evidence to add credibility. 

« The state does not consent to its admission. It remains hearsay evidence, the witness is not before court, there is no evidential weight, it proves nothing; moreover it raises many more questions than it answers. Who is the doctor, where does he come from, what is the so-called illness, why is it a layman’s diagnosis?

« These are the questions I want you to put to the doctor. We should not have reached this stage quibbling about the terms of an inadmissible medical certificate with an added desperate application [by Mantsha] that the matter should be postponed to clear up these issues. »

« We [the court] don’t know he is sick. We’ve heard reports in the media, » said Downer.