Jacob Zuma. Picture: REUTERS
Jacob Zuma. Picture: REUTERS

The first day of the Zondo commission essentially confirmed what everyone knew: former president Jacob Zuma, his son Duduzane and his friends the Gupta family are all implicated in state-capture corruption.

And Zuma and his son will have to give evidence if they intend to challenge the claims made against them.

Zuma, his son and the Guptas are still deciding how they will respond to the claims and if they will formally apply to cross-examine their accusers.

At this stage, the accusations against them rest solely on the evidence of former ANC MP Vytjie Mentor and former Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) CEO Themba Maseko. Lawyers for the Guptas have, however, indicated that they expect to face further accusations.

Mentor has claimed she was offered the public enterprises minister post by the Gupta family at their Saxonwold home in Johannesburg, with Zuma present in the house. The post was occupied by former ANC MP Barbara Hogan at the time.

The commission of inquiry into state capture began on August 20 2018. In his address, Judge Raymond Zondo discussed the challenges they faced as a commission.

Maseko claims he was pressured by the Gupta family to place government ads in The New Age, which was their newspaper at the time.

He told radio station 702 that Ajay Gupta had told him: “‘I can see you are being difficult. I will talk to your superiors and you will be sorted out.’ Ajay Gupta demanded [from] me to put money in their companies.”

He claims that before his meeting with Ajay Gupta, Zuma told him to “help” the Guptas.

Zuma’s lawyer, Muzi Sikhakhane, told deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo on Monday that his client wants an opportunity to respond to the evidence given by Maseko, Mentor and GCIS deputy director Phumla Williams, but needs time to decide how to respond.

He said Zuma had received notices only on August3 that he was implicated by Mentor and Maseko’s evidence. “The issue that makes this difficult for us is that we have raised … a lot of questions … to obtain certain documents because we want to make a meaningful participation in this very important process. So what we’ve asked for are documents that we believe will make it easier for us to know what case we have to meet.”

Following requests by the legal teams representing Zuma and the Guptas, the commission’s lawyers have agreed to provide them with “evidence bundles” relevant to the claims.

Sikhakhane said that Zuma’s team wants time to be able to decide on whether he should make a written statement to the commission. If Zuma provides such a statement, it will be the first time he has responded under oath to state capture allegations against him.

Former public protector Thuli Madonsela spent four hours trying to coax Zuma into answering basic questions about the allegations against him contained in her state-capture report. He and his then attorney Michael Hulley refused to do so.

When Zuma was questioned in parliament about former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas’s claims that the Guptas offered him Nhlanhla Nene’s position as finance minister months before Nene’s shock removal, Zuma repeatedly responded: “Ask Jonas.”

Zuma has not given a substantive response to allegations that he essentially outsourced his power to fire and hire ministers to the Guptas and that he did so to support their and his son’s business interests.

Should Zuma disagree with the evidence given by Mentor, Maseko or Williams, his lawyers will have to apply formally for the right to cross-examine the witnesses. Any cross-examination that disputes Zuma’s involvement in alleged state capture will have to be backed up by the testimony of Zuma himself. Zuma’s lawyers will have to think hard about if, how and to what degree they involve him in the state-capture inquiry.

His counsel — advocates Sikhakhane and Thabani Masuku — are also representing him in his corruption trial, with Mike Hellens and Dawie Joubert, who are representing Duduzane Zuma and the Guptas in the state capture inquiry. They too have asked for time to consider how the Guptas and Duduzane Zuma may respond to the claims.

Duduzane Zuma is due to appear in the Randburg Magistrate’s Court to face culpable homicide charges on Thursday.

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