The correctional services department says it has been billed R398 271 for recently paroled Jacob Zuma’s medical care at a private hospital – and may foot those costs because of Zuma’s status as a former president.
“To date, we have been billed for R398 271. He [Zuma] remains in hospital, which means that this bill is likely to increase,” department spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo told News24 on Tuesday.
Normally, inmates are hospitalised in state hospitals – unless, under very specific conditions, they are able to pay for private hospitalisation.
Nxumalo said that, while the department had been billed for Zuma’s medical treatment because “he is in our care”, it was still deciding whether or not to pay these costs.
“It is being discussed, taking into consideration the privileges of Mr Zuma as the former president,” he said.
The department last month confirmed that Zuma “underwent a surgical procedure on Saturday, 14 August 2021, with other procedures scheduled for the coming days”.
National Commissioner of Correctional Services Arthur Fraser released Zuma on medical parole 22 days later.
Zuma had served 61 days of a 15-month sentence for contempt of the Constitutional Court.
Amid threats of legal action, the department refused to confirm what the medical parole advisory board’s recommendation was in relation to the Zuma’s release on medical parole.
It also wouldn’t respond to claims that Fraser overruled the board when it refused medical parole to the former president.
Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola’s spokesperson, Chrispin Phiri, declined to be drawn on the rationality or lawfulness of Fraser’s medical parole decision, which the DA says it will take on review.
The debate on the rationality and lawfulness of this decision is speculative, and people are entitled to hold their own views on such issues.
“But, given that there have been various media reports that litigation is pending in relation to this matter, we do not want to enter the fray in regards to issues that may be resolved by the courts.”
He further stressed that Lamola only engaged with the medical parole advisory board in relation to inmates serving life sentences – and added that “in any other instance”, decisions about the granting of medical parole were “the responsibility of the National Commissioner”.
News24 has, meanwhile, established that Zuma has yet to be examined by doctors appointed by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) – as uncertainty over his fitness to stand trial for Arms Deal-linked corruption will again delay the case.
While the NPA’s Mthunzi Mhaga has refused to comment on if and when doctors appointed by the State had examined Zuma, the JG Zuma Foundation spokesperson, Mzwanele Manyi, confirmed to News24 on Tuesday that this had not happened.
The foundation was adamant the NPA had to show that it was “necessary” for its doctors to examine Zuma, given that he was receiving treatment from “independent” military doctors entrusted with the care of all current and former heads of state.
On Tuesday, the NPA released a brief statement confirming that the case against Zuma, which is meant to resume on Thursday, would be postponed to 20 and 21 September “to enable the State-appointed medical team of specialists to consider the medical evidence in cooperation with Mr Zuma’s medical team”.
In view of the medical reports being confidential, no further comment will be issued as all issues relating thereto will be ventilated in court at the next hearing.
Sources with knowledge of the discussions that are currently taking place between doctors for Zuma and the State have told News24 that the medical professionals “have already met and will meet again soon”.
It would appear that, at this point, the State is not pushing for its doctors to examine Zuma – but that may change if the NPA’s doctors are not satisfied with the information and evidence they receive from his military doctors.
Last month, and with the full agreement of Zuma’s advocate, Dali Mpofu, Pietermaritzburg High Court Judge Piet Koen ordered that the State “may grant a medical practitioner of its choice to examine Mr Zuma to assess his ability to stand trial for corruption and for that doctor to be a witness, if necessary”.
Advocate Wim Trengove, for the State, had told Koen that it was “in the interests of justice” for such an order – which he said he could not imagine the defence opposing – to be granted.
Trengove stressed that Koen had the power to grant such an order, under the provisions of the Criminal Procedure Act, which allows a court to take steps to determine the fitness of an accused person to stand trial.
Koen then asked Mpofu if he had a difficulty with the State seeking an order that its own doctors would examine Zuma, to which he responded: “Well, as I understand it, if the State has any issues with the report, then the State is entitled.
“Because, as I said, neither myself nor Mr Trengove, unfortunately, are medical experts, so he would hardly be able to cross-examine anyone if he has not had access to his own medical team.”
Mpofu agreed that the State should, therefore, be able to have its own doctor to examine Zuma.
Brigadier-General Mcebisi Zukile Mdutywa, of the South African Military Health Service, previously told the NPA and the correctional services department that Zuma needed “extensive emergency treatment” that would require at least six months of care.
Mdutywa wrote to the NPA in KwaZulu-Natal to inform it that Zuma had been admitted to hospital “as a result of his condition that needed an extensive emergency procedure that has been delayed for 18 months due to compounding legal matters and recent incarceration and cannot be delayed any further as it carries a significant risk to his life”.
“We trust that the court processes will accommodate this urgent health programme, such that we can be able to work swiftly to restore his health,” he added.
“The minimum proposed period of care is six months, during which periodic reports will be communicated to advise on possible availability of any further engagements on your end.”
If Zuma’s lawyers decide to pursue a long postponement of his criminal trial, on the basis that he is currently not fit to stand trial, that application will almost certainly be conducted in camera – in other words, behind closed doors.
This is because the former president has the right to demand that his private medical information is not released to the public.