Durban – Despite being seen as "too lenient" on absconding politicians by issuing warrants of arrests that are stayed, some legal experts say the courts are sending strong messages to the accused public figures.
One of the experts said the courts are telling politicians that they will not get special treatment and will be treated like all citizens if they fail to pitch before courts.
Analysing the warrant of arrest issued by the East London magistrate court against EFF leader Julius Malema on Monday, constitutional law expert Pierre de Vos said while there are no shocking implications for Malema, his future freedom is hanging by a thread.
Malema is charged with discharging a firearm in public. The incident allegedly happened in 2018 at Sisa Dukashe stadium in Mdantsane where one of his bodyguards Adriaan Snyman (a co-accused in the case) handed over to him a gun and Malema allegedly fired it into the air. The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) then charged him for illegally using a firearm in a closed area and thus endangering people.
De Vos said the court wants Malema to be present in court on May 8 or every time the matter is to be heard.
“This is basically the same with Jacob Zuma and it just means that now there is no option not to attend the next court hearing. Nothing happens, but if you don’t come and attend the court case then you could be arrested. It’s a way of securing somebody’s presence at court … But normally when this happens, it is just so that at the next hearing the person cannot stay away because if they stay away, they could then be arrested,” de Vos said.
De Vos said in his personal view, it is a good thing that the courts are cracking the whip.
“It’s good that the courts are insisting that people be in the court hearing because that could send the signal exactly that the courts are not going to agree to politicians being treated specially or getting special treatment,” he said.
Another law expert, Lawson Naidoo from the Council of the Advancement of the South African Constitution (CASAC) while it is concerning that politicians like Malema and former president Jacob Zuma (who also has a stayed warrant of arrest against him until May 6 by the Pietermaritzburg high court), they have not entirely looked down upon the process.
Naidoo said by sending their lawyers to court to explain their absence, the politicians are taking part in the hearings. However, he said it would be better if they go there personally in order to show their unreserved respect.
“I don’t think it’s a case of different rules (one for politicians and one for ordinary people) this is what a court ordinarily do that when an accused does not appear a warrant is issued and it is acted upon if the accused person does not show up in court and is not represented by an attorney either. That’s the distinction in these two cases and in both cases their lawyers were both in court,” Naidoo said.
In the case of Malema, his attorney, Ian Levitt was quoted by News24 on Monday as saying they had an agreement with the state not to have Malema come to court everytime the matter is heard. Levitt was also quoted by EyeWitness News saying Malema was not obliged to be in court as the full hearing has not started.