Zuma set for Zondo showdown
The inquiry’s attempts to hand over documents relevant to the ex-president’s testimony to his attorney have failed
Within days, former president Jacob Zuma will appear before the Zondo commission into state capture, an inquiry that he has slammed as "politicised", lacking impartiality, biased against him and controlled by shadowy forces that he has yet to name.
Zuma — who has been asked to "give his side" of the story on allegations that he and his administration were "captured" by private interests — can choose to answer the questions put to him, or openly defy a process he clearly regards as illegitimate.
It is almost certain that he will do the latter.
First, Zuma has not been prepared to answer the questions he may face.
After an increasingly acrimonious exchange of letters, the inquiry declined to provide the former president with those questions, a move that led to his lawyers distancing themselves from any involvement in preparation processes for his evidence.
They argued that Zuma had asked for these questions in "good faith" and needed them in order to engage "meaningfully" with the inquiry.
Zuma can choose to answer the questions put to him, or openly defy a process he clearly regards as illegitimate
But in a media statement, the inquiry said "Zuma is not entitled to insist that he be furnished with the questions in advance of his appearance before he can consider whether to give the undertaking".
The statement added: "It [the inquiry] takes the position that it is enough that he has been told that he will be afforded an opportunity to state his side of the story in response to what certain identified witnesses have said in their statements or affidavits or evidence about him or against him or in regard to certain issues that relate to him."
The FM has established that the inquiry has since repeatedly tried to hand over documents it regards as relevant to Zuma’s testimony to his attorney Daniel Mantsha, without success.
In his last letter to the inquiry’s acting secretary, Peter Pedlar, Mantsha made it clear that he would no longer be corresponding with the inquiry and its officials — and he has not responded to any subsequent attempts to contact him. That means that when Zuma gets into the witness box, he will be one of the few inquiry witnesses to do so without any real consultation with evidence leaders — and, he may argue, no ability to independently recollect and testify about events that took place years ago.
He has taken that stance in the past, with then public protector Thuli Madonsela, who unsuccessfully tried to get him to answer questions about his and his son Duduzane’s relationship with the Gupta family and the family’s alleged influence over his appointment of cabinet ministers.
While Madonsela argued that many of her questions were about simple issues that Zuma should be able to respond to immediately, he was adamant that he needed legal advice before doing so, and did not want to be "ill-prepared".
Second, the inquiry has not subpoenaed Zuma but has instead "invited" him to appear before it. It has also told his lawyers that this invitation is not being extended under any of the inquiry’s rules, but is rather an opportunity for Zuma to address the claims made against him.
Zuma, however, maintains that none of that testimony actually implicates him, effectively suggesting that there really is no need for him to respond.
What is clear is that Zuma wants a chance to vent about the inquiry itself.
Mantsha previously told the commission that Zuma "relishes the moment when he will publicly, in appropriate, impartial, credible and truly independent forums, expose what lies behind [the] abuse of legal and judicial processes" that he claims has defined the inquiry’s conduct towards him.
Zuma has not identified what this "independent" forum will be, but he may well choose to use his opportunity to voice, again, why he does not believe that "state capture" exists and perhaps explain who he believes is using the term as a "political weapon" against himself and others implicated in it.
Zuma may not want to answer the questions put to him, but he clearly wants to attack the reason he’s being asked them in the first place.
The question that may prove pivotal to how this inquiry is evaluated in this potentially explosive moment in its history is simply this: what will it do then?