Justice Zondo denies bias, but Jacob Zuma alleges he created persecutory environment
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Cape Town - Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo on Monday testified that he had never been friends with Jacob Zuma as the commission of inquiry into state capture heard a legal application from the former president for his recusal.
"That is not accurate," Zondo said, as he enumerated the times over the past two and a half decades that the pair’s paths have crossed.
Zondo said he paid his respects when one of Zuma's wives died "18 or 20 years ago", but Zuma had never attended any of his family funerals or more mundane events like birthday celebrations
At times looking pained, he added that in 1996, a year before he became a judge, he had met with Zuma because he was representing a client as a lawyer who wanted to bring an application against him.
However, Zondo said, he never brought the application because he was then appointed to the bench. He added that as a judge, Zuma had never previously sought his recusal from the bench in any of the matters embroiling the former head of state.
Zuma has moved for Zondo's recusal as head of the eponymous commission probing a web of rent-seeking scandals that mostly played out during his presidency. This came after Zondo, exasperated with Zuma's refusal to testify before the commission, summonsed him to do so.
Following Zondo's opening statement on Monday morning, Zuma's lawyer advocate Muzi Sikhakhane said he was not accusing Zondo of being partial or lacking integrity.
Instead, he said he needed to criticise the deputy judge president for, through his comments in commission sittings at times, contributing to a perception that has gained public traction that Zuma is the politician responsible for the corruption and disarray besetting South Africa.
The former president, who was present at the hearing, was reasonably justified to be "fearful" of appearing in a forum that had reinforced perception that he belonged in prison, Sikhakhane continued.
"You may have created an environment that enforces in his mind reasonably so that this forum is an extension of the narrative about him that everything that went wrong in South Africa is attributable to him," he said.
Zondo called for a tea break before Sikhakhane was about to list the remarks that he would argue furthered this fear and perception.
He had earlier said that it was expected of presiding officers to remain impassive even when listening to harrowing testimony about the rape of a toddler.
Sikhakhane said the fact that two courts had barred Zuma from fulfilling his normal presidential duty, as set out in the Constitution, of appointing the head of a commission of inquiry in the case of the Zondo one probing state capture, had already created the ground for the former president's fears.
African News Agency (ANA)