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Jacob Zuma's decision to snub Zondo commission will backfire, say experts

Former president Jacob Zuma. File picture: Rogan Ward/Reuters

Former president Jacob Zuma. File picture: Rogan Ward/Reuters

Published Feb 2, 2021


Durban - Experts believe that the decision by former President Jacob Zuma to snub the Zondo commission which is probing allegations of state capture during his presidency will have dire implications for all parties involved, including the ANC.

This comes as Zuma issued a statement and openly defied the highest court in the land, the Constitutional Court, telling it that it was bending the rules in order to specifically target him.

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In the jaw-dropping statement, Zuma alleged that for far too long the country’s judiciary had thrown out the rule of fairness and made rulings that were solely aimed at humiliating him.

He added the Zondo commission had taken a leaf from the book of former public protector, Professor Thuli Madonsela, who he alleged during her tenure in office created a special and different approach to specifically deal with him.

“Recently the commission ran to the Constitutional Court on an urgent basis to get the Constitutional Court to compel me to attend at the commission and to compel me to give answers at the commission, effectively undermining a litany of my constitutional rights including the right to the presumption of innocence.

“I have never said that I do not want to appear before the commission but have said that I cannot appear before Deputy Chief Justice Zondo because of a well-founded apprehension of bias and a history of personal relations between the Deputy Chief Justice and myself. I have taken the decision by the Deputy Chief Justice not to recuse himself on review as I believe his presiding over the proceedings  does not provide me the certainty of a fair and just hearing.”

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Going on, Zuma told the commission he did not fear being jailed for his open defiance.

“In the circumstances, I am left with no other alternative but to be defiant against injustice as I did against the apartheid government. I am again  prepared to go to prison to defend the constitutional rights that I personally fought for and to serve whatever sentence that this democratically elected  government deems appropriate as part of the special and different laws for  Zuma agenda.”

Durban-based legal expert, advocate Mpumelelo Zikalala, said Zuma's refusal to appear was a big deal as he has been implicated by several witnesses before the commission. But even if he fails to avail himself, the commission would not collapse and it could still produce a final report with recommendations without Zuma's input.

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"All the allegations made against him will make it into the final report as they are because he did not dispute them and he can be investigated by law enforcement agencies based on those allegations," Zikalala said.

Anton van Dalsen, a legal expert at the Helen Suzman Foundation, said Zuma's refusal to appear before the commission was not a train smash as it would continue to do its work. However, he warned the former president that there would be "consequences" for the open defiance.

"The commission can continue its work without Zuma and he cannot criticise the report by claiming that his input was not taken into account. I think he is trying to discredit the commission before the eyes of the people but that won't work. He can stand on his head but the commission won't collapse," he said.

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Professor Bheki Mngomezulu, from the University of the Western Cape, said Zuma's action is a political statement to show people that he believes that the commission and the Concourt were not treating him fairly. He added that the fallout of this decision would be felt even by his party, the ANC.

"This move will further divide the ANC as its members who aligned along existing factions will take different sides on the matter. The divisions will also spill to alliance partners of the ruling party and it will affect leagues like MKMVA," Mngomezulu said.

ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe said while they have taken a stance not to have a running commentary on matters pertaining to the Zondo commission, the governing party's national executive committee will meet in two weeks and will "reflect on the matter".

He admitted that "developments like this one were not anticipated."

The Zondo commission was yet to announce what would be its next step after the defiance by Zuma.

Political Bureau