Jacob Zuma brought to inquiry under false pretences, says advocate
Former president Jacob Zuma’s advocate has hit out at the state capture commission of inquiry for bringing him there “under false pretences”, resulting in the hearing being adjourned until Friday.
At issue was the way in which the inquiry has been questioning Zuma, who has consistently maintained that he has been treated like an accused criminal, and not a witness.
Zuma and his relationship with the Guptas have been central to allegations of state capture emerging from the inquiry.
The former president had testified earlier in the week that the inquiry, headed by deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo, was the culmination of a global intelligence plot to “get rid” of him.
Zuma’s advocate, Muzi Sikhakane, told Zondo he had previously advised Zuma “to respect this process, come here and co-operate”, but now wanted him to “consider that position because … I do not think I was right”.
“I would like to have an adjournment. I have a view that my client was bought here under false pretences and now I need for him to make up his mind whether he wants to be cross-examined. Because it’s clear ... he’s being cross-examined,” Sikhakhane said.
The commission is an inquisitorial process, which means that witnesses are not subjected to cross-examination unless a specific legal application is made. The commission also elected to “invite” Zuma, rather than subpoena him, meaning that he is currently not legally compelled to appear before it.
Following a protracted adjournment on Wednesday, Zondo announced that Zuma’s testimony would be adjourned so that lawyers for the former president and the inquiry could reach “common ground” on how it would proceed.
Zuma told Zondo earlier on Wednesday that he “had a problem” with the way he was being questioned about the testimony of former public enterprises minister Barbara Hogan. She had told the inquiry that the then president interfered in the appointment of a CEO to Transnet, a parastatal at the centre of allegations of state capture corruption.
She said Zuma insisted that Siyabonga Gama be appointed to the position, despite him facing serious disciplinary charges linked to procurement irregularities.
Under the leadership of Brian Molefe and Gama, Transnet is accused of having disregarded policies and laws and inflating costs when awarding multibillion-rand contracts to build and deliver 95 and 100 locomotives to China South Rail (CSR) and China North Rail (CNR). Gupta family associates allegedly received billions of rands in kickbacks linked to these deals.
Zuma denied that he interfered in the appointment of the Transnet CEO.
He questioned “the manner in which I think I am being asked questions on details that I can’t even remember properly, because I was not even working on those details”.
Zondo responded that it would be fair comment to say that there would be “certain things that you [Zuma] would be expected to know”.
It would also be important for Zuma to respond to the specific claims made against him by Hogan, he said, so that the commission “will have a full picture”.
Zuma responded: “I hear you, but my problem does not go away. The allegation is from the minister that I interfered. I don’t know what does that mean. I don’t know, because presidents talk to their ministers about the work they do.”
Zuma said that although the president “might have views” on appointments, he “didn’t understand this very broad word ‘interfered’”.
Zondo tried to smooth things over, without success.
Zuma stuck to his guns, and repeatedly insisted that he never told Hogan that Gama was his only choice as Transnet CEO. He stressed that he did not have the ability to circumvent appointment processes.
Sikhakhane then intervened, telling Zondo he would repeat the things he said to both him and evidence leader Paul Pretorius in a private consultation on Tuesday, following a tense standoff between lawyers for the inquiry and Zuma.
Advocate Thabani Masuku, who is part of Zuma’s legal team, had hit out on Tuesday at the inquiry for “cross-examining” the former president about the testimony of former government communications head Themba Maseko, who believes Zuma ordered his transfer or dismissal a month after he butted heads with Ajay Gupta.
Maseko claims Gupta tried to bully him into ensuring that the state’s R600m budget was allocated to the Gupta-owned New Age newspaper, a claim Gupta strongly denies.
Zuma denied that he played any part in Maseko’s transfer.