Former President Jacob Zuma private prosecution case against a senior journalist and a state prosecutor has been postponed.

State advocate Billy Downer and News24 journalist Karyn Maughan made their first appearance at the Pietermaritzburg High Court on Monday. The pair appear to answer to the private prosecution former president Jacob Zuma has instituted against them.

It was a brief appearance, which saw the case postponed until early next year. Pending the finalisation of bids from Downer and Maughan to have the summonses they were served with last month set aside.

Jacob Zuma case postponed to next year
Former South African President Jacob Zuma enters the High Court in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, January 31, 2022. Jerome Delay/Pool via REUTERS

Why Jacob Zuma opened the case

The case relates to what the former president has described as the “leaking” of a “confidential” medical note. The note was allegedly submitted to the court as part of a postponement application in his corruption case.

It was filed with the court and forms part of the public record as a result.

Zuma believes the revelation of the medical note amounts to a breach of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) Act.

He opened a case against Downer – the lead prosecutor in his corruption case – with the police last year. But the NPA in April announced it had taken a decision not to prosecute due to insufficient evidence. Writing off the charges levelled against the veteran prosecutor as baseless and unsustainable.

Zuma has now decided to prosecute him – together with Maughan – privately.

In the summons, Zuma has accused Downer of two counts of contravening section 41 (6) (a) of the NPA Act – essentially disclosing information he acquired in the scope of his duties as a prosecutor without the National

Zuma has accused Maughan of contravening section 41 (6) (b). Disclosing the contents of a document in the possession of the prosecuting authority without the National Director of Public Prosecution’s (NDPP) permission when she reported on the note.

The former president has listed 21 witnesses whom he intends to call in the matter. This includes Justice Minister Ronald Lamola, NDPP Shamilla Batohi, KwaZulu-Natal DPP Elaine Zungu and President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Downer and Maughan have both responded with review applications in which they want the summonses set aside as an abuse of the court process.

Billy Downer

Downer had also filed an application seeking to increase the security Zuma had put up for the trial from R90,000 to R1 million.

The court heard on Monday, though, that the parties had settled – with Zuma agreeing to put up R500,000.

In the meantime, though, Zuma’s corruption case returns to court next week.

It was last postponed pending the outcome of Zuma’s Constitutional Court appeal against former Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) president Mandisa Maya’s dismissal of an application he had lodged with her to try to get her to reconsider his failed special plea challenging Downer’s title to prosecute him.

Two other SCA judges dismissed an appeal bid out of hand.

The Constitutional Court has now dismissed that case but it’s not likely to be the end of the matter as the court has said Zuma can still appeal the original ruling.

Zuma is also likely to ask the court to stay his corruption case until the private prosecution has been finalised.