Former South African president Jacob Zuma. Picture: REUTERS/MIKE HUTCHINGS
Former South African president Jacob Zuma. Picture: REUTERS/MIKE HUTCHINGS

Former president Jacob Zuma has not provided the commission of inquiry into state capture with any proof of his illness — after indicating that he would not appear before it this week, saying he was unwell.

Zuma is a key witness in the state capture commission hearings. He was the head of state during the period that it is investigating. His evidence is vital in determining his role in a system of government that allegedly operated in the interests of the Gupta family and other private entities.  

He has repeatedly questioned the existence of state capture saying there is no evidence that implicates him in it.

While stating that the chair of the commission, deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo, does not “at this stage” consider it necessary to request a doctor’s certificate from Zuma, the inquiry said that its legal team is “very concerned” that Zuma has also not yet provided his written response on the issues it raised with him more than three months ago.

“The issue is receiving their attention,” spokesperson Mbuyiselo Stemela told Business Day last week.

“Should the commission be of the view that a witness who has failed, without good reason, to appear before it is likely to do the same in the future, the commission will invoke its powers of compulsion to secure the appearance of that witness before it in the future,” Stemela said.

Subpoena powers

This statement is the closest the inquiry has come to confirming that it will consider using its subpoena powers to force Zuma, who it previously “invited” to give evidence, to appear before it.

At the weekend, Zuma tweeted his appreciation for all the “well wishes” he had received “during this difficult time” — an apparent reference to his illness, which reportedly caused him to be admitted to hospital two weeks ago.

No date has been set for Zuma’s return to the commission. The inquiry wants him to address more than 80 “areas of interest” — including his involvement in the mooted trillion-rand nuclear deal with Russia, his relationship with the Gupta family and decisions to fire former finance ministers Pravin Gordhan and Nhlanhla Nene — when he testifies again.

Zuma is also under pressure from the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to decide whether he will seek to join French arms company Thales’s bid to challenge the dismissal of its application for a permanent stay of corruption prosecution.

Thales stands accused of offering Zuma an annual R500,000 bribe, facilitated by the then deputy president’s financial adviser, Schabir Shaik, to secure Zuma’s “political protection” from any potential investigation into SA’s multibillion-rand arms deal.

In documents filed at the Constitutional Court, former Thales vice-president of dispute resolution and risk Christine Guerrier said the company has turned to SA’s highest court because “unnecessary time and cost wastage will he avoided if this court were to consider this matter”. 

Lead Zuma prosecutor Billy Downer said the NPA has invited Zuma to join Thales in its Constitutional Court appeal, as the state believes it would be “inimical to the interests of justice” for the appeals to be decided separately.

Zuma is seeking leave to appeal in the Supreme Court of Appeal, but has argued in that appeal that the NPA has violated a number of his constitutional rights.

Zuma has not responded to the invitation, Downer said.