Former President Jacob Zuma’s decision to excuse himself from the Zondo commission, without asking for permission from the chairperson of the inquiry, threatens the rule of law.
This is according to a statement issued by the National Association of Democratic Lawyers of South Africa (Nadel).
Nadel also said it was “dismayed” by the contents of the press statements issued by the Jacob Zuma Foundation, stating that the former President would rather go to jail than face up to the Zondo commission.
The foundation also commended Zuma for walking out of the commission during the tea break.
It said it was gravely concerned at the reports that when Zuma’s counsel went to see Zondo in chambers, they found the judge with Advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi SC.
Nadel said the foundation’s statement was an “affront to our constitutional order”.
It said: “The foundation’s assertion that former President Jacob Zuma would rather go to jail than face up to the Zondo commission is perplexing, bearing in mind that the commission was set up by Zuma. When he established it, he was unequivocal in expressing his confidence for all judges in the country.”
Zuma left the commission last week, shortly after Zondo had dismissed the request for the judge to recuse himself from chairing the proceedings.
He had accused Zondo of being “biased” and said the two shared a “close relationship”, which Zondo denied multiple times.
After Zondo announced his decision on Zuma’s recusal bid, Advocate Muzi Sikhakhane, who represents the former president, said they would be excusing themselves from the proceedings.
“The instruction is to review your decision that you’ve just made when you finally give us a copy,” Sikhakhane told Zondo at the time.
He also said they would be laying a complaint with the Judicial Service Commission against Zondo.
However, the commission’s legal team head, Advocate Paul Pretorius, said proceedings should continue and that, if they excused themselves from the proceedings, Zuma would be acting in defiance of the summons issued against him.
He said it was up to Zondo to decide whether proceedings should continue.
Threatening the rule of law
In its statement, Nadel said Zuma’s decision to “excuse himself” from the commission without asking for permission from Zondo, despite a valid summons have been issued and without a court order setting aside the summons, threatened the rule of law.
“No one is above the law, including [a] former president,” it said.
“The Zondo commission is a duly instituted public inquiry, whether one agrees with the terms of reference, the work of the commission or its chairperson it is still a duly instituted public inquiry,” Nadel said, adding: “The commission should not be distracted from this important task by transparent attempts at undermining its legitimacy.”
Nadel expressed its confidence in Zondo, saying it had, “no doubt that he is an independent judge who will always abide by the Constitution in conducting the investigations and hearings”.
It also said it has noted attacks on Advocates Ngcukaitobi and Pretorius.
“Apart from being devoid of fact and logic, these attacks are also unfortunate. We trust that the foundation will in due course reflect on this and issue proper retractions and apologies.”
Meanwhile, on Monday, Zondo announced that he had requested that a criminal complaint be laid against Zuma.
Zondo also announced that the commission would order a fresh summons against Zuma to appear before the commission.
The commission would approach the Constitutional Court on an urgent basis for an order, directing the former President to appear and answer questions.
An unhappy Zondo described Zuma’s actions as a “serious matter” which would have a significant impact on the work of the commission.
“His conduct may send a message to all other witnesses who might not be comfortable to come and answer questions in this commission that it is the right thing to do for a witness who has been summoned to decide to excuse himself and that witnesses who had been summoned can come and go as they please before the commission.
“If that were to happen, this commission would not be able to operate. It is therefore quite important for the proper functioning of this commission that Mr Zuma’s conduct be dealt with in a manner in which our law provides it should be dealt with,” Zondo added.