The chairperson of the commission of inquiry into state capture, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, has announced that former president Jacob Zuma has withdrawn his decision to no longer participate at the inquiry.
The commission had adjourned so that Zuma’s legal team and that of the inquiry could meet with Zondo so that an agreement could be reached between the two teams after the former president announced that he would no longer take part in the commission.
Zuma’s legal counsel, advocate Muzi Sikhakhane, had told Zondo that Zuma “will take no further part” at the inquiry.
Zondo said the commission’s legal team would indicate to Zuma’s legal counsel what the commission’s area’s of interest are in each witness statement it would like the former president to give evidence on.
The chair further announced that Zuma had stated that he was willing to cooperate with the commission.
Zondo said Zuma would return at the commission at a time that would be agreed on.
Earlier, Sikhakhane said Zuma’s concerns were how the commission had “approached” the former president and the manner in which he was “treated” during proceedings from Monday, July 15.
Zuma was expected to take the witness stand the whole week from Monday till Friday, however, in an unexpected turn of events on Wednesday, the former president and his legal team brought proceedings to a halt shortly after lunch. Their complaint was that Zuma was being cross-examined “very thoroughly” about details he knew nothing about.
Sikhakhane said he would approach the courts to seek relief for the manner in which his client was treated at the commission.
“We have come to tell you that because of [the] reservations we raised, my client has instructed me to take no further part in this commission. He respected you and the commission, but the commission has set no ground rules for his appearance here. We see a route to go to the courts and examine how this commission treated him. I am imploring you … I think there is something wrong here, chairman, not with you or any particular person but this process has become political. This is not personal when I say we want to examine the conduct of this commission further,” said Sikhakhane.
Sikhakhane added that the commission treated his client as an accused, and not as a witness, the same treatment afforded to Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan and ex-finance minister Nhlanhla Nene.
“There are nine witnesses [who implicated Zuma at the commission] and my client is invited here in terms of no rules, just courtesy. You get witnesses who come from government and has a grievance. Our client sat and expected to be treated just like you treated Pravin Gordhan, Nhlanhla Nene. We proposed that witnesses be accorded the same respect right at the beginning.”
Sikhakhane’s bombshell before Zondo came after frequent clashes with the commission’s evidence leader Advocate Paul Pretorius over his line of questioning this week.
Pretorius argued that everyone who appeared before Justice Zondo was asked questions as per rules of the commission, and that all Zuma’s legal team was trying to do was avoid questions.
“They (Zuma’s legal team) were of part of the engagement announced by you on Wednesday, chairperson. We note the statement that the former president will take no further part in the commission. The rule says no one appearing before the commission may refuse to answer any questions. Mr Zuma and his team are asking to be excused from the rules. We cannot deviate from that through any private engagement to soften the process. We are not here to prove a case like in a court. What we’re here to do is investigate in an inquisitorial way to ask questions that will help you determine what’s true and what’s not. There has never been an undertaking to not ask questions in this process,” Pretorious said.
The stand-off on Friday saw Zondo call for a meeting with both legal teams to seek a solution. He expressed his disappointment in the commission for not getting back to him on the outcome of Thursday’s discussions.
“Yesterday evening I saw on television that the former president will continue with his testimony today. I had indicated to both teams in chambers that I needed to be informed about the outcome, maybe late in the evening. I have in mind that if I was informed that there were certain challenges and a need for me to contribute in resolution of the impasse, I would have met with everyone,” said Zondo.
“When we adjourned [on Wednesday], I said there were reasonable prospects that common ground would be found. I didn’t say that without basis, I had a basis that gave me confidence and of course, there was no guarantee, there is no guarantee in any discussions. I do intend, nevertheless, before we reach any finality on this matter to have a session with counsel with legal teams in my chambers. I may not need to be told what transpired between them yesterday, but I do have ideas of my own that I would like to discuss with them to see if we could find common ground to accommodate Mr Zuma’s concerns without compromising both sides.”
Zuma’s supporters, who filled the public gallery on Friday, rose to their feet and sang songs praising the former president, including the popular “Wenzeni uZuma”, loosely translated, it means “what has Zuma done”. The chorus reverberated inside the venue.
(Additional reporting, African News Agency)
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