‘Zondo versus Zuma’ as South Africa’s graft probe bites

Former South African President Jacob Zuma has come out swinging after being told that he must return to the Zondo Commission to testify on his alleged role in ‘state capture’ corruption, setting the scene for yet another round of legal delays.

Last week, the lines in the showdown between Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo and SA’s former president were drawn when Mr Zondo made it plain in a press conference that he would not stand for another bout of Zuma-style ‘Stalingrad’ defence tactics of endless delays.

783 counts of fraud

Zuma hit back, saying Zondo had become “obsessed” with him.

But in latest developments, it appears Zuma – who also faces his long-delayed trial on 783 counts of fraud, money-laundering and corruption – is determined to never appear before the commission, if he can avoid it, demanding that Zondo recuse himself over alleged “bias”.

It has been widely reported that Zuma’s lawyers will this week interdict the state capture commission to seek recusal.

Zuma is due to be back before the inquiry on November 16, after having ducked prior summons early this year when he was allegedly too sick – with an unspecified illness – to attend the inquiry.

Sources inside the ‘Zuma camp’ are saying that Justice Zondo’s media briefing to demand that he appear at the commission hit a nerve, triggering the former president’s furious response.

State capture inquiry

Legal analysts said that unless there was something substantive and pertinent in Zondo perhaps having once had some legal discussion with Zuma, there was little chance of a recusal on those grounds.

The allegation of “bias” carried little to no legal weight, the analysts said.

Zondo has let it be known through the inquiry spokesperson that he will not be commenting on either Zuma’s statements or to the reportedly imminent interdiction being planned.

That Zuma feels he is being cornered is clear from his response. On his first outing at the commission, Zuma was allowed by Zondo to indulge in a long-winded account of his actions, saying all allegations against him were part of a smear campaign conducted by three unnamed Western spying agencies going back to the early 1990s.

The next time around, Zuma will be put to cross-examination, which is what he seems desperate to avoid.

In a bid to avoid the state capture inquiry at all costs, Zuma has called on his allies, with no less than four public statements issued from Zuma-supporting groups condemning Zondo for summoning Zuma to appear before the commission.

The ‘Gauteng RET President Zuma’ support group claimed Zondo has never before addressed arrangements for witnesses through media conferences, but targeted Zuma “for such special, disrespectful, treatment”.

They alleged Zondo “decided” to humiliate Zuma and his lawyers by calling the press conference, while not doing the same for others who are due to appear before the commission.

“It is evident that the prime target that the commission and its chair have in their crosshairs, and are literally hunting down, is (former) president Zuma,” Zuma’s supporters claimed.

Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) have also weighed in, saying the commission needed to treat all called before it equally, such as Minister for Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan, who was also due to appear but cancelled due to pressing governmental commitments.

“We understand that the commission has provided Mr Zuma with non-negotiable dates for his attendance as well as a hearing for a summons to be issued against him for his attendance.

“We humbly request that the commission deal with Mr Gordhan in the same fashion that it is dealing with Mr Zuma,” the EFF said.

Spokesperson of the Commission, the Reverend Mbuyiselo Stemela, said Zondo was not going to respond to accusations or legal steps under discussion: “The DCJ (deputy chief justice) does not intend to respond or comment.”

Zuma’s lawyers have apparently already written to Zondo, demanding his recusal.

Zuma’s daughter, Dudu Zuma-Sambudla, posted on social media that Zuma’s legal team’s position was that, “for reasons to be fully set out in the application to be made soon, we are instructed to seek your recusal as Chairperson of the Commission on the ground that our client reasonably apprehends that you have already adopted a biased disposition towards him and cannot bring an impartial mind to the issues and evidence that relate to him”.

“President Zuma’s conclusion that the chairperson is no longer capable of exercising an independent and impartial mind is fortified by what he views as the unwarranted public statements made by the chairperson at the said media briefing.”

The reference being made was to Zondo’s public comments last week, which amount to an ultimatum to Zuma and his legal team, when he refused to negotiate on dates to testify at the commission, following yet another attempt by Zuma’s team to have his appearance delayed.

“This commission does not negotiate dates with witnesses,” Zondo said, determining that Zuma will appear before him November 16-20.

Many delays

Zondo is all set to hear an application on October 9 by the commission’s legal team for the authorisation for a subpoena against Zuma to appear before the commission on those days.

The application will continue with or without Zuma or his legal team being present.

Zuma is also due in court from early December as his 15-year-old fraud corruption and money-laundering trial related to alleged kickbacks and other payments, connected to a major arms deal in the late 1990s, finally gets underway after many delays.

Sources within the ruling African National Congress (ANC) still loyal to Zuma feel that the state is “picking on” Zuma when many others were involved in various forms of corruption during his administration, adding that the “closing in of the (legal) walls” was having “serious negative effects” on Zuma and his health.

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