EDITORIAL: Time for Zondo to be tough on Zuma
Former president needs to be held accountable and answer questions at state capture commission
It is no surprise that former President Jacob Zuma is incensed by the state capture commission compelling him to appear before it and answer questions, as he has never before been forced to account for anything he has done.
Zuma is insisting that he has always sought to co-operate with the commission and deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo, who chairs it, and last week slammed as completely unjustified efforts to get him to testify.
This is the man who is alleged to have been instrumental in the hollowing out of the state and its institutions, the man who helped to bring SA’s economy to its knees with his reckless reshuffling of the finance minister, and one who is said to have been complicit in the state capture project along with his friends, the Gupta family.
To this day he has not provided any of the information or evidence requested of him by the inquiry and has chosen not to respond to the evidence of 33 witnesses who the inquiry’s lawyers contend have implicated him in wrongdoing. Neither has he sought to cross-examine a single one of those witnesses, which include many of his former cabinet ministers.
The former president has argued that none of the witnesses who have previously testified against him, has provided evidence that actually requires a response from him. He has declared that there is no lawful basis or good reason for the commission to require of him to answer “feelings and speculative allegations and ‘advices’ by individuals who are my political foes or who hold special personal or professional agendas of their own”.
This is classic Zuma.
He does not believe that he has done anything wrong and that all allegations against him are part of a political witch hunt. The former president has been using the same excuse to avoid trial in the multibillion-rand arms deal matter.
If anything, Zuma was given privileges at the state capture commission not allowed to other witnesses. On his first appearance he was given an unlimited amount of time to present his opening statement in which he described a 29-year-old plot to get rid of him and kill him. He didn’t touch on any of the allegations that were before the commission.
Zuma was also given a list of “areas of interest” on which the commission would question him. But when questioning by the commission’s legal team started, he could not remember what happened nine years ago and when things got a little too hot his lawyers stepped in and put a stop to proceedings. Since then Zondo has been unable to get Zuma to return.
It is clear that Zuma is frustrating the commission. He has already indicated that he does not trust the work it is doing. But the reason for his actions and statements seems to be to prejudice the outcome of the state capture inquiry and cast doubt on any findings that may be made against him.
If Zuma does not appear again to answer questions and Zondo makes findings against him based on the evidence brought before the commission, in all likelihood the former president will then argue that he was not given a fair chance to respond and take the report on judicial review.
He has done this too before. When the State of Capture report written by former public protector Thuli Madonsela was released Zuma initially claimed that he had not been given a fair opportunity to respond, even though Madonsela had tried to question him for four hours on issues she believed he could elucidate. He claimed at the time he needed to solicit legal advice.
This forced Madonsela to release the transcripts and recordings of her interviews with Zuma and his former lawyer Michael Hulley.
This time around Zondo must not allow this. He must stand his ground and ensure that Zuma sits in the chair and for once in his life be held accountable.
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