Former President Zuma at the State Capture Commission of inquiry. Picture: Simphiwe Mbokazi/African News Agency(ANA)

Johannesburg - Former president Jacob Zuma has announced his intention to withdraw from the commission of inquiry into state capture, threatening to approach the courts over the commission's conduct.

The former president's legal team dropped the bombshell minutes after the inquiry got under way on Friday after a tense conclusion on Wednesday. 

Zuma and his legal team had on numerous occasions accused the commission of subjecting the former president to cross-examination, despite not applying to do so. 

Minutes into proceedings, Advocate Muzi Sikhakhane SC, on behalf of Zuma, dropped the bombshell of the former president's decision to withdraw.

"We've come to tell you chair that because... reservations we've raised and our experience in this room that my client has instructed me that he will take no further part in these proceedings. 

"He respected you, he still does, he respects this commission but the commission does not seem to know its ground rules," he told Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo. 

Sikhakhane went on to outline the numerous reasons for withdrawing from the inquiry, including correspondence from the commission's legal team as well issues around Zuma's invitation to appear before the commission. 

He also claimed the former president was being treated as an accused and not like other witnesses who'd previously appeared before the commission. 

He added that they were contemplating approaching the courts to challenge the commission's conduct. 

"...we want to explore the option of going to our courts to challenge what we think is your decision but you've told us it's not. In any event, I have an ethical duty myself, I believe that a client, a witness, like any witness, must be treated fairly and at this point I'm not certain that I'll be doing my ethical duties if I proceeded in these proceedings.

"It's not personal when I say to you we are now at the point where want to take the conduct of this commission in respect of our client, and what we think are irreparable damages to how he can conduct himself here and it has serious implications for me. I cannot bring a client here when this commission and the world believe I must just walk him to Kgosi Mampuru Prison without a process." 

After Sikhakhane's lengthy address to Zondo, evidence leader Advocate Paul Pretorius was given a chance to respond to allegations made by Zuma's legal team, where he denied the questioning Zuma had been subjected to went beyond the commission's terms of reference or the invitation extended to the former president.

"We note the statement that the former president will take no further part in the proceedings but we need to clarify a number of issues in response to the reasons given. When you chair said that you invited the former president to come to the commission, the topics on which the invitation were based... were detailed in those letters. There was no lack of clarity as to the purpose of the invitation and the implications for the topics which would form the basis of questioning. That was made very clear, it's on record. 

"Not one of the questions that we have asked have gone beyond the terms of reference, have gone beyond the bounds of the limits placed in the correspondence, the invitation and acceptance and have gone beyond what is enjoined upon us in terms of the rules."

After Pretorius's equally lengthy response, Zondo addressed the commission and expressed disappointment in the turn of events over the past few days. He said he had been confident following Wednesday's adjournment that a resolution would be reached between the two legal teams 

"I am disappointed that yesterday [Thursday], a situation allowed to happen where I went to bed without knowing how the discussions were going.

"When we adjourned I expressed confidence that both teams would find common ground, I didn't say that without any basis. I had a basis which gave me confidence that two teams could find each other. Of course, there was no guarantee but I had confidence."

Zondo said while he noted Zuma's decision, he requested that both teams meet in his chambers to ventilate the matter further. 

He further said the decision to invite Zuma to appear before the commission was his and not the commission's legal team, saying there was no basis to criticise the commission's legal team. 

After a lengthy back and forth between the legal teams, Zondo adjourned proceedings to a tea break and to also meet with both teams before a decision is reached on Zuma's further appearance. 

IOL