Johannesburg - Former president Jacob Zuma on Tuesday struggled to recall several key events of his nine-year tenure as the head of state.
Zuma continued giving evidence at the commission of inquiry probing state capture, and denied evidence implicating him in doing the Guptas’ bidding.
This was after Zuma told Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, who chairs the inquiry, that his life and that of his family had been threatened.
Director-general in the Department of Justice Vusi Madonsela told the media in Cape Town that if Zuma was threatened, they would not take it lying down.
He said the state made provision, through the witness protection programme for people who were threatened, to be safeguarded.
Madonsela said Zuma, like other former heads of state in the country, had security, but it could be scaled up if there was a request. “If this is brought to the commission’s attention, we can look at how the former president can be assisted,” Madonsela said.
Former Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) chief executive Themba Maseko, and erstwhile ANC MP Vytjie Mentor are among the top politicians and senior government officials who have fingered Zuma at the commission.
Zuma denied Maseko’s testimony that he was removed as GCIS boss after the former president had called late former minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane to instruct him to either redeploy him or terminate his employment.
“I never instructed Chabane about transferring Maseko as GCIS chief executive to Public Service and Administration as director-general,” he said.
Zuma asked why he would wait until he was outside the country to fire Maseko.
“Chabane consulted with the president during the break (at the time), and an impromptu announcement was made to the Cabinet that I had been terminated as GCIS chief executive and government spokesperson,” Maseko had previously testified.
Maseko said he had to inform then public service and administration minister Richard Baloyi, who was not at the Cabinet meeting, that he was moving to the department as director-general, a position he held for a few months before leaving the public service.
But Zuma insisted that he was not the cause of Maseko being shifted.
Advocate Thabani Masuku, SC, who is part of Zuma’s legal team, took issue with what he described as cross-examination of his client by evidence leader advocate Paul Pretorius, SC, stating that Maseko did not implicate the former president in any of the commission’s terms of reference of fraud, corruption and state capture.
Masuku said Zuma, as a guest of the commission, requested that the inquiry be fair and not ask questions that amount to cross-examination.
He said the commission should have addressed a letter to Zuma’s lawyer, Daniel Mantsha, to prepare a statement, and gone to Nkandla to interview him. Masuku demanded that Zuma be treated like the ministers who had appeared before the commission.
“There are serious credibility issues here that we are concerned about, as his legal team. Why has he been brought here in this manner?” Masuku asked. He added that Zuma did not have a statement prepared by the evidence leaders. Masuku’s intervention forced Justice Zondo to adjourn proceedings and discuss Masuku’s complaint with Pretorius in his chambers.
Earlier in the proceedings, Zuma revealed that his personal assistant had received a call from an unknown person on Monday night, threatening to kill him and his children.
Zuma said he felt his life, that of his children and his lawyers’ lives were under threat.
Justice Zondo described the threats as totally unacceptable and said that witnesses should not be threatened with violence and intimidation.
He added that witnesses and their families should not be threatened with harm.
Zuma also distanced himself from Mentor, saying he had had no interaction with this witness.
He denied that Mentor was fired as chairperson of the portfolio committee on public enterprises for refusing to meet Zuma during a state visit to China.
”I know nothing about it,” he said.
Zuma said Ajay Gupta never spoke to him about any ministerial appointment that he (Zuma) offered Mentor, and added that he was never at the Guptas’ Saxonwold, Joburg, residence at the same time as her.
On Wednesday, Zuma is expected to respond to former public enterprises minister Barbara Hogan’s evidence that also implicates him.