On Monday February 24, Julius Malema tweeted an SABC news clip in which NPA spokesperson Loxolo Tyhali explained the warrant of arrest issued shortly beforehand against Malema.
“At this moment the warrant of arrest won’t be effected. It’s just standard procedure when the accused is not before court,” Tyhali told the cameras.
Malema was due to appear in the East London Magistrate’s Court on Monday alongside bodyguard Adrian Snyman, for a pre-trial hearing before the case in which both men will be charged with five counts relating to the illegal discharge of a rifle at an Mdantsane rally in 2018. Neither Malema nor Snyman arrived.
According to Tyhali, Malema’s legal representative approached the magistrate dealing with the matter “in chambers” and “made explanations” as to why Malema and Snyman were not able to be present in court.
Malema’s lawyer Ian Levitt later accused the NPA of showboating, claiming that the defence had agreed with prosecutors beforehand that Malema’s presence was not required in court until the commencement of the actual trial.
But the NPA maintained that whatever arrangements had been made, the requirements of the Criminal Procedure Act meant that a warrant of arrest for the two men had to be issued as a result of the court no-show. It will be stayed until their next scheduled court date, on May 8, 2020.
This puts Malema in exactly the same boat as former president Jacob Zuma – who failed to appear for his last scheduled court hearing on February 5 and has now had an arrest warrant issued against him, stayed until his next appearance on May 6, 2020.
Zuma’s apparent response to the news of the arrest warrant was to tweet a photograph of himself aiming a gun from atop a quad bike. The tweet was generated on Zuma’s verified Twitter profile.
Malema took a less overtly combative approach. After noting the issuing of the arrest warrant via his SABC retweet, the EFF leader posted a video of a pot coming to the boil over a fire, with the words: “Cooking goat in the village…”
The EFF leader is believed to be currently attending to family matters.
This follows an eventful 10 days for Malema, following the Fighters’ disruption of the State of the Nation Address (SONA) with calls for former president FW de Klerk to be evicted from Parliament, and the subsequent accusations and counter-claims of spousal abuse flying between Malema and the ANC caucus in the post-SONA debate.
It is likely that Malema is genuinely unruffled by the firearm charges, which he has previously described as “mischievous”. Former spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi has claimed that neither the rifle nor the bullets used during the EFF’s 5th-anniversary celebrations were real, alleging that they were part of the “act” of celebration.
The major evidence held by the state in the case appears to be news footage showing Malema allegedly firing several rounds from an assault rifle, which he then hands to Snyman. It is this footage which the state was due to deliver to the defence on Monday.
The most serious charge Malema could face is illegal possession of a firearm, which carries a possible sentence of 15 years in jail.
But the wider significance of this latest Malema-related misadventure is with regards to the status and functioning of the South African courts.
Many of Malema and Zuma’s supporters seem to have greeted the two politicians’ failure to respect their most recent court dates with approval and satisfaction. This is occurring while the likes of former SAA chairperson Dudu Myeni had, until recently, repeatedly failed to appear at court proceedings against her.
At the same time, high-profile figures like Malema himself have sought to cast increasing doubt on the independence and legitimacy of the South African judiciary. Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane recently termed her unravelling faith in the country’s judges a “constitutional crisis”.
What these individuals have in common is plenty of past, present and future run-ins with the courts. It suits the Zumas and Malemas to see public confidence in the judiciary eroded before a successful prosecution for corruption can be concluded.
South Africans can expect to see many more expressions of contempt towards the courts – but it shouldn’t be forgotten what is at stake.
OPINION: Rebecca Davis