Jacob Zuma’s walkout at Zondo Commission has been on the cards for a long while
Johannesburg - Former president Jacob Zuma’s walkout at the Zondo Commission was pre-rehearsed when he allegedly refused to answer questions by the commission’s evidence leader Advocate Paul Pretorius in July last year.
This was the view of Dr Benny Lekubu, an anti-corruption expert at Unisa’s College of Law after Zuma and one of his senior legal team Adv Muzi Sikhakhane lodged a dramatic walkout after the Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo dismissed the former president’s application for his removal.
While Zondo and his legal team appeared surprised by the walkout - journalists and members of the public witnessed how Zuma and Sikhakhane staged the walkout.
As they were leaving the hearing venue, they signalled to some of their supporters, who were sitting in the public gallery, including UMkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans spokesperson Carl Niehaus.
In less than five minutes - Zuma was gone. All the parking bays which were designated for him and presidential VIP guards stood empty minutes after Justice Zondo resumed proceedings at 11.40am to deliver his verdict on whether the former president should take the stand and respond to allegations of his involvement in state capture along with the fugitive Gupta family.
Zondo, to the dismay of his investigation and legal team, was forced to announce that the former president had left without his permission despite having been served with summonses to be before the commission to answer to the allegations against him.
Instead of issuing a warrant of arrest, Zondo asked his team to reflect on the events over the weekend. He is expected to make a finding on Zuma’s conduct on Monday.
But Dr Lekubu was not surprised by the walkout.
“The signs were showing during his last appearance at the Zondo Commission in July last year. He accused the evidence leader of cross-examining him. Later his legal team also came to his defence and his testimony was disrupted,” Lekubu said.
He said Zuma’s conduct was contrary to when he announced the establishment of the Zondo Commission in January 2018.
“Mr Zuma’s remark gave us hope that we were on the road to uncover malfeasance, fraud and corruption as well as lack of leadership in our country. Unfortunately, almost three years later - he is the same person who refuses to cooperate with the Zondo Commission,” Lekubu said.
Similar remarks were pointed out by Zondo on Thursday, when he recounted how Zuma failed to appear before the Commission in September last year. He said his legal team told him it was due to ill-health and a change of his legal team.
Zondo said earlier this year, prior to the outbreak of Covid-19, attempts were made for him to appear but he allegedly told the commission that his focus was on mounting a defence to his criminal trial related to the multi-billion arms deal case in South Africa.
Zondo made another attempt for Zuma to appear before him in September, asking him to supply the commission with affidavits against serious allegations of state capture against him.
“They failed to appear. Instead on September 28, Mr Zuma’s legal team wrote a letter to the commission indicating their intention to file an application for my recusal. Due to their failure to comply, I had to issue directives ordering Mr Zuma to appear before the commission on November 16.
“As Mr Zuma was expected to take the stand, his legal team only filed an application for my recusal on November 11 - a few days before his hearing. The commission’s secretary (Prof Itumeleng Mosala) opposed the application but I agreed to hear the application,” Zondo said.
In his application, Zuma argued that he and Zondo were friends. He also said that he had influenced the appointment of Zondo to the bench in 1997, but Zondo had none of it.
In dismissing Zuma’s application for recusal, Judge Zondo said: "Mr Zuma has failed a test for a reasonable apprehension of bias and his application ought to be dismissed. It is accordingly dismissed," Zondo ruled.
Judge Zondo also rejected Zuma's version that he visited him at his official residence in Durban a few days after his appointment as a head of the commission of inquiry into state capture.
In Zuma's affidavit, submitted to the commission on Wednesday, the former president said Zondo's visit to his official residence was part of a continuation of their friendship but Zondo's denies it.
"Upon my appointment as head of the commission by the Chief Justice (Mogoeng Mogoeng), he informed me that the former president wanted to meet with me. I had indeed visited him at his residence. It was an official meeting," Zondo said.
Judge Zondo also said it was too late for the former president to reject his appointment almost three years later saying he would have raised the issue about their alleged friendship during the initial stages of his appointment.