Bitter war of words days before Jacob Zuma testifies at Zondo commission
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Durban – A few days before former President Jacob Zuma appears before the Zondo commission, which is probing allegations of state capture, his lawyers and the commission’s secretary are engaged in a bitter war of words.
The war of words which erupted on Wednesday, was sparked by a letter written by Professor Itumeleng Mosala, the commission’s secretary, to advocate Eric Mabuza, Zuma's lawyer, asking Mabuza whether his high profile client would honour the November 16 to 20 appearance.
Mosala opened his letter by issuing an ultimatum to Mabuza to inform Mosala by 12pm on Thursday (November 12, 2020) whether Zuma would come to the commission.
“In your letter you stated that your client had not told you that he was going to defy the summons. This does not tell the commission what your client’s instructions are as to whether or not he will comply with the summons. It is simply what he has not told you. I now write to ask you to take instructions and tell us whether your client will or will not comply with the summons.
“I ask that you let me know by 12h00 tomorrow, if I do not receive any response from you by 12h00 tomorrow or if I receive a response that does not inform the commission that your client will comply with the summons, I will assume that your client does not intend to comply with the summons,” Mosala wrote to Mabuza.
Mosala also reminded Mabuza that his client, Zuma, has not lodged a formal request to seek the recusal of Zondo as previously indicated. This was about Zuma saying he and Zondo have historic personal tiffs that may blur the judge’s impartiality when he hears Zuma's testimony.
“The commission has noted that, to date, your client has not lodged his application for the chairperson’s recusal which he indicated more than five weeks ago that he would be lodging. Your client should have long lodged his application if he persists in his request for the chairperson to recuse himself.
“I take this opportunity to warn your client that, even if his legal team plans to move his application for the chairperson’s recusal, that will not be a valid reason for him not to comply with the summons on 16 November 2020. He is required to be in compliance with the summons as his legal team moves whatever application they may be instructed to move on his behalf. The commission has considered it important to make this clear ahead of Monday, 16 November 2020,” Mosala wrote.
The tone of the letter did not sit well with Mabuza who found it to be insulting. He perceived it as Mosala placing himself above the chairperson of the commission, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo. Hitting back, Mabuza reminded Mosala that he had no right or powers to warn him or his client of anything.
“We take strong exception to the condescending tone of your letter and your attempt to bully us or (former) president Zuma. Your conduct is completely unnecessary and uncalled for. The deputy chief justice has never treated us with the disrespect you show us. If anything, your conduct will only serve to harden attitudes in this delicate matter," Mabuza said in response.
He further told Mosala to do what he likes regarding the matter.
“We wish to remind you, professor, that you have no authority whatsoever to warn (former) president Zuma of anything … As for your threat, we wish to refer you to our letter dated 5 November 2020 that ’you are free to take any step you deem appropriate’ … All our client’s rights are reserved,” Mabuza hit back.
By Thursday it was not clear whether Zuma would present himself before the commission and if he did not show up, what steps the commission would take to force him to come. Some media reports indicate that the commission may approach the Constitutional Court for an order to compel Zuma to avail himself.
Zuma’s gripe with appearing before the commission appears to be a fear that his testimony could be used against him at his ongoing corruption trial which returns to the Pietermaritzburg High Court in December this year.