The first time most South Africans were exposed to the term ‘Stalingrad defence’ was in recent years, as former president Jacob Zuma hopped from one court to the next in a string of cases that the Supreme Court of Appeal infamously called “the recurrent end of the unending”.
The courts have defined Stalingrad defence as an art by defence lawyers to postpone criminal trials, pending approaches to other courts.
The effect of this is that parties to court proceedings are denied speedy justice, and the speedy trial for which the Constitution provides does not take place.
After initially declaring that he wanted his day in court, Zuma has spent the past 15 years running from the law by constantly appealing and making new applications, which has made it impossible for the fraud and corruption case against him to start.
Even as we speak, the trial has not started as Zuma’s lawyers have signalled an intention to apply for the case against him to be discontinued.
But now, for the first time, the courts appear to be pulling the rug from under his feet.
In a landmark case this week, the courts ruled that Zuma must pay back all the money that was spent on his various court applications, estimated at between R16 million and R32 million.
The courts have also instructed that civil proceedings should be launched against him to repay the money.
The most important principle that has emerged from this case is that government officials charged with corruption and fraud are not charged with offences allegedly committed on behalf of government. They must face these charges in their personal capacity.
The court ruled that the charges of corruption, fraud, racketeering, money laundering and tax evasion against Zuma had nothing to do with any of the official functions he was required to perform as MEC or deputy president. The alleged payments were solely for Zuma’s benefit.
These findings should serve as a warning to all other government office bearers and officials who have used government resources to defend themselves, from stealing from government.
As the court pointed out, if the state is burdened with such high legal costs, taxpayers and poor communities will be burdened and will continue to be denied access to essential services as a result.