“So I must just fold my hands and do nothing?” was South Africa’s Deputy Judge President Justice Raymond Zondo’s rhetorical summary of where he had been left by former president Jacob Zuma’s many efforts to avoid answering questions about ‘state capture’.
Instead of doing nothing, Zondo ordered Zuma to appear before his commission on November 16 or face arrest.
The apparently endlessly patient Zondo – who has gone out of his way to accommodate Zuma, who in turn has made all appearances of being a ‘hostile’ and reluctant witness – had finally run out of patience.
While fringe elements within the ruling African National Congress (ANC) were outside the party headquarters and on the streets protesting against Zondo’s move to have Zuma answer questions which, as a head of state, he should have answers to, inside the commission one could hear a pin drop as Zondo slowly closed in on the inevitable – he would force Zuma’s hand, just as his had been forced into ordering Zuma’s appearance.
Claims of bias
There is a demand by the Zuma camp that Zondo recuse himself on alleged basis which the former president is also saying is part of a ‘political agenda’ against him.
Given that recusal on grounds of bias is a last-ditch legal ploy, certain to fail for the lack of actual evidence beyond what amounts to legalistic whining, there is little chance that Zuma’s efforts to have Zondo recused, either by himself or by a court, will do anything but cost him money which he has been claiming he does not have.
When the former president first appeared before the Zondo commission, he objected to answering any questions. He often said he had no memory of what he was being asked about. He would go into lengthy rambling and highly improbable accounts of ‘spy versus spy’ scenarios where foreign spy agencies were ‘out to get him’.
It was obvious then that Zondo wasn’t buying any of it – nor were the vast majority of South Africans, apart from hard-core Zuma supporters of whom there are still a considerable number, especially in his Zulu homeland of KwaZulu-Natal.
Zondo has tried on more than one occasion to call Zuma before him in order to get to the bottom of the many issues raised.
So far, 34 witnesses have implicated Zuma in various degrees of wrong-doing, from being ‘Number One’ who gave a nod and wink to some pals, through to active involvement in state capture.
“I’m just doing my job,” said an exasperated Zondo as he made his decision to summon the former president, despite the complaints of bias.
“I’m giving him a chance to clear his name,” added Zondo, echoing words said many times before by Zuma himself, to the effect that he wanted his “day in court” and to “clear” his name.
In calling Zuma to stand before him at 10am on November 16, Zondo was ratchetting up the pressure which has been steadily mounting on Zuma and his dwindling crew of hard-line supporters of late.
Zuma’s most hysterical supporters were having none of it, including self-declared former ‘freedom fighter’ and Zuma acolyte Carl Niehaus, who, kitted out in full camo gear, decried the summons and called for Zondo to step down and for his commission to be abolished.
Within hours of the Zondo summons, the much-criticised public protector who has been widely seen as a Zuma proxy, lost her own court battle to stave off a parliamentary debate on her fitness for office.
The public protector has drawn some of the harshest judicial criticism on record against a supposedly independent investigative constitutional agent, and has been forced to personally pay a portion of costs when losing cases she had taken to higher authority after several of her findings were challenged and overturned.
Another key Zuma ally, ANC secretary-general and effectively the party boss on a day-to-day level, Ace Magashule, has also been implicated in corruption, including tenders won by his two of sons for Covid-19 emergency personal protective equipment.
At the same time, Zuma will be back in court on December 8 for his long-delayed 783-count case of fraud, money-laundering and corruption which will be running in the background when he appears before Zondo.
That the end is coming quick for the Zuma camp has been signalled this past week by a hectic round of speculation and media reportage to the effect that an arrest warrant on corruption charges had been issued against his most powerful remaining ally, Magashule.
The ‘Hawks’, SA’s top criminal investigative arm, said that no warrant had been issued – but the writing is clearly on the wall and it is considered certain that one is coming soon.
The public discussion of Magashule’s possible arrest is a clear marker that Zuma and his faction are rapidly running out time.
South Africans, as one analyst put it, have travelled a “very long and dark road out of very bad place called corruption”.
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