EDITORIAL: You serve nobody by being the nice guy, Justice Zondo
Constitutional Court gives chair one last chance to ensure Jacob Zuma testifies before the commission
Deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo can thank his lucky stars that former president Jacob Zuma seems unable to understand that he is not above the law.
It is a result of Zuma’s absolute disregard for the law that the Constitutional Court, on Thursday, ordered him to give evidence before the Zondo commission of inquiry, which is tasked with looking into allegations of state capture that dangerously interfered with SA’s constitutional democracy and had an immense impact on the economy.
While the Constitutional Court judgment is necessary and extremely important, it also has to be noted that Zuma is not the only person at fault in this sorry saga of trying to get him to answer questions.
Zondo has spent almost three years listening to testimony about how state resources were plundered and abused for private and political interests.
He has listened to tales that allege a president outsourced his constitutional powers to his friends the Guptas, allowing them to make cabinet appointments. It also heard of how the same president’s interests were furthered by the very State Security Agency meant to ensure the safety of the nation.
These are just some salacious examples, but they don’t even come close to the full extent of what Zuma has to answer for before the commission he himself established.
So serious are the allegations that the Constitutional Court said if they were found to be true, they would constitute a huge threat to “our nascent and fledgling democracy”.
Despite being central in the state-capture saga, Zuma has given the commission the runaround on actually answering to the long list of allegations implicating him. And in the process he has, for the most part, been treated with kid gloves. While it is not surprising that Zuma has tried to discredit the commission’s work and avoid answering to it, the commission itself carries some blame.
In the apex court’s unanimous judgment on Thursday, justice Chris Jafta detailed the exhausting process the commission followed over the past 18 months to get Zuma to answer questions. It started off with the commission asking nicely, and ended with a summons late in 2020 to compel Zuma to do so.
Part of the problem was that the commission already knew late in 2019 that it would have to summons this central role-player, but nothing happened for almost a year.
Jafta and the judges of SA’s highest court clearly could not understand how this was allowed to happen. In the judgment, Jafta said the commission had issued no less than 2,526 summonses in the course of its work, but that the court was not informed as to why a summons was not issued against Zuma until October 2020.
“Despite the constitutional injunction of equal protection and benefit of the law, of which the commission was aware, for reasons that have not been explained the commission treated the respondent differently and with what I could call a measure of deference,” he said.
Hopefully, Zondo will now understand that it serves no-one to be the nice guy. He has one job, and that is to get answers. He played a stupid game by trying to get the master of the Stalingrad strategy to actually do the right thing by asking him nicely.
It is unfortunate that the highest court has had to point out that the commission could have forced Zuma by law to give answers, and that it once again had to be pointed out that Zuma was not special.
But the court has at least given the commission’s lawyers and Zondo one last chance. Now it is up to them to ensure Zuma gives the country the answers it deserves. There is no way out anymore.
As the court said: “It is in the interests of all South Africans, the respondent [Zuma] included, that these allegations are put to rest once and for all.”
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