Jacob Zuma. Picture: SUPPLIED
Jacob Zuma. Picture: SUPPLIED

Former president Jacob Zuma is still ill and will not be able to appear before the state capture inquiry later in January, commission chair deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo was told on Tuesday.

The head of the commission's legal team, Paul Pretorius, said they had been informed that Zuma was ill and receiving treatment in SA and abroad, and that he would not be available before March.

Zuma, his son Duduzane and their friends the Gupta family have been at the centre of allegations of state capture, which crippled the state, bringing it to its knees during the former president's term of office.

Zuma made his first appearance at the commission in July 2019 and was meant to return to answer questions in November  the same year.

During this first appearance he told the commission of a 30-year plot to get rid of him. When questioned, he gave vague answers and accused the commission of cross-examining him.

Zuma has said on many occasions that he does not believe there was state capture, and that the inquiry, which he set up, is politicised. This is the same argument he has made in his corruption case, which is expected to go to trial this year.

The former president did not turn up for his second appearance in November, when his lawyers said he was too ill to take the witness stand.

Last week, the commission said it was preparing to subpoena Zuma to compel him to complete his testimony. It said Zondo would hear an application by the legal team for an order authorising the acting secretary of the commission to summon  the former president to appear from January 27 to 31.

Witnesses appearing before the commission could face legal consequences should they evade questions and obstruct Zondo and other members of the commission, and could be subjected to a fine or imprisonment of up to 12 months.

Pretorius said the legal team received an answering affidavit from Zuma on Monday afternoon dealing with his health and legal issues concerning the chair's right to compel witnesses to appear. It also attacked the integrity of the commission.

Pretorius said Zuma's medical condition was not disclosed in the affidavit but that confidential information on this would be provided to Zondo in chambers.

Zondo said it was a good thing that Zuma was offering to make the information available without being compelled to do so, but there was some discomfort about having the information.

“I may have to see what he offers to let me see, but if I do so I would not be doing so without any reluctance,” the deputy chief justice said.

“From what I have been told, in the affidavit it seems that what he is offering [to tell me] may reveal his illness and I have some discomfort with having to see anybody's information relating to anybody's illness.”

Advocate Thabani Masuku, for Zuma, took issue with the statement issued by the commission last week regarding the application to subpoena the former president.

He asked that the commission, particularly the leaders of the legal team “extend to us the presumption of integrity”.

Masuku said it was “embarrassing” to have to tell the commission that Zuma had a medical condition under the threat of a subpoena, and that despite this the legal team wanted to continue with the arguments.

“It tells us ... there is a deep-seated antipathy towards our client,” he said.

Masuku also asked that the commission's legal team not be given an “open-ended order” to summon Zuma.

Pretorius said the commission learnt of Zuma's medical condition at 4pm on Monday and would not persist with seeking a summons for the dates in January.

“But, we will seek summons for a later date,” he said.

After meeting the commission and Zuma's legal team, Zondo ordered that a responding affidavit be filed by the close of business next Friday.

The deputy chief justice accepted that Zuma would not be able to appear later in January and said that he had also accepted “with reluctance” the offer made by Zuma that he meet the leader of his medical team.

He said meeting Zuma's medical team would help with allocating dates for him to appear before the commission.

quintalg@businesslive.co.za