The chairperson of the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, has dismissed former president Jacob Zuma’s application for him to recuse himself from hearing Zuma’s testimony.
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Advocate Muzi Sikhakhane, for Zuma, said Zondo’s ruling would be reviewed and asked that they be excused from the proceedings to consider the judgment.
Sikhakhane further said he had been instructed to lodge a complaint with the Judicial Service Commission against Zondo because he was a witness and a judge in a dispute that involves him.
The head of the commission’s legal team, Advocate Paul Pretorius said if Zuma excuses himself from Thursday’s proceedings then he will be acting in defiance of the summons against him and that it was up to Zondo whether the proceedings continue.
In his ruling, Zondo said there was “absolutely no evidence” indicating that he did not believe that Zuma had to fly out of the country to seek medical attention earlier this year and so subsequently could not appear before the commission.
Zondo maintained that he and Zuma were not friends and said that the former president had erred in stating that the commission’s chair should have publicly disclosed their formal meeting following the latter’s appointment to chair the inquiry.
“I was not paying him a personal visit,” Zondo said, adding that the relationship between he and Zuma was not of the nature that would disqualify him from hearing the former president’s testimony nor was it proper ground “for me to recuse myself”.
Zondo said Zuma should have raised his concerns over his appointment at the time it was made by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng – who would not have been bound by these concerns.
Zondo said he was of the view that there was no sound reason for Zuma to only raises the issue of their relationship close to three years after his appointment, adding that the former president could not be allowed to raise this issue “so late in the day”.
Zondo said there was “no merit” in Zuma’s argument that the commission had called on witnesses who sought to entrench a narrative of his guilty because the inquiry was free to hear evidence from any witness as long the former president would be afforded the opportunity to give his responding version of events.
The deputy chief justce said Zuma’s failure since last year to furnish the commission with responding affidavits he had undertaken to provide meant he could not accuse the inquiry of ignoring the concerns the former president had raised in 2019.
He further said there was no merit in Zuma’s contention regarding the various comments made by the commission’s chair during witness testimony because he, Zondo, was entitled and obliged to ask witnesses questions and seek clarification from them.
“Even a judge in a court of law is entitled to ask questions and seek clarifications in a trial,” Zondo said, adding that it appeared as if Zuma wanted him, Zondo, to be passive during witness testimony, which he, Zondo, did not agree with.
“What is important is to strike the right balance,” Zondo said, adding that this balance had been “correctly struck”.
Zondo concluded that Zuma had failed to meet the test for reasonable apprehension of bias and dismissed the former president’s application.
The State Capture Commission on Thursday morning heard the ruling in Zuma’s application to have Zondo recused from his position.
The ruling was due to be delivered on Wednesday afternoon, but after a last-minute affidavit submitted by Zuma which Zondo needed to consider, it was set for Thursday.
Zuma’s legal team feel the former president has been targeted in the hearings, and said Zondo “is no longer capable of exercising an independent and impartial mind”.
Muzi Sikhakhane, for Zuma, said at the commission on Monday that certain comments made by Zondo during proceedings made Zuma feel as though he was being unfairly persecuted.
Zondo’s recusal, according to Sikhakhane, was essential in allowing Zuma to present evidence before the commission, adding that he was “mindful of the crisis it would create”.
Zuma also alleged in papers earlier this week that he and Zondo were friends, a statement vehemently denied by Zondo.
The statement was branded as “not accurate”, with Zondo saying they did not socialise, and only met at governmental functions.
Sikhakhane said on Tuesday that Zuma planned to put a statement on record which would potentially dispute Zondo’s recollection of events, as well as the alleged friendship.
Watch the hearing live below: