Zuma’s vicious response to Zondo’s jail threat

AFRICAN MIRROR REPORTER

HOURS after an unprecedented announcement that he may face a jail term, the former South African president came out with guns blazing, attacking Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, the judiciary and reiterating his decision not to appear before the commission probing state capture.

The commission, chaired by Zondo, announced after Zuma failed to attend the hearing as summoned that it would approach the Constitutional Court and seek a conviction as well as a prison term.

Zuma has however, made it clear that he was ready to face the consequences of his decision.  

“Now that it seems that my role in the Commission has come to an end, I wait to face the sentence to be issued by the Constitutional Court. Accordingly, I stand by my statement of 1 February 2021 and no amount of intimidation or blackmail will change my position as I firmly believe that we should never allow for the establishment of a judiciary in which justice, fairness and due process are discretionary and are exclusively preserved for certain litigants and not others.

“Many in our society have watched this form of judicial abuse but choose to look the other way merely because of their antipathy towards me. They choose to lay the blame at my doorstep and fail to confront head-on the judicial crisis that is unfolding in our country.  The Zondo Commission has today again showed how it is short of the attributes necessary to conduct an independent, fair and impartial investigation or hearings that involve me or that contradict their script on state capture,” Zuma said.

The former president said he took the step to boycott the Zondo Commission hearings not to undermine the Constitution “but to vindicate it, in the face of what I view as a few in the judiciary that have long left their constitutional station to join political battles.”

“I took it after my observation that there are some concerning tendencies slowly manifesting in the judicial system that we should all fear. It is my political stance and mine alone. Judge Zondo has today again displayed questionable judicial integrity, independence and open-mindedness required in an investigation of this magnitude. 

Zuma said the commission was conceptualized as part of a campaign and sponsored multi-sectoral collaboration to remove him from office. He said the commission, which he appointed when he was president and asked South Africans to cooperate with it, was appointed unlawfully.

Zuma said there was no basis or dispute that necessitated the commission to approach the Constitutional Court and that there was no factual basis for presumption that he would defy the subpoena. 

He said: “I have already presented myself to the Commission on two occasions when called upon to do so.  Fed with absolute lies, the Constitutional Court assumed that I or my legal team had threatened that I would defy or refuse to answer. You only have to peruse the records of the date of the recusal application to know that my legal team was at pains to suggest a responsible way forward. The submission by the Commission that a threat was made that I would defy or refuse to answer is a blatant falsehood fabricated on behalf of the Commission and entertained by the judges of the Constitutional Court.

“It is that type of judicial conduct that I protest against, not our law or our Constitution. It is not the authority of the Constitutional Court that I reject, but its abuse by a few judges. It is not our law that I defy, but a few lawless judges who have left their constitutional post for political expediency. I respect the law and have subjected myself even to its abuse for the past 20 years. I have presented myself to the Zondo Commission twice and therefore there was no factual justification for the order given by the Constitutional Court. None whatsoever.

“I protest against those in the judiciary that have become an extension of political forces that seek to destroy and control our country. I seek no special treatment from the judiciary. I ask them to remain true only to their oath of office and their duty to treat everyone as equal before the law. I do not ask them or any of them or you to develop any affection for me. I only seek to

vindicate what we fought for so that even when society is in turmoil, as it will from time to time, we will have a judiciary that refuses to join the lynching mobs.”

Zondo announced yesterday that the commission will approach the Constitutional Court, ask it to find Zuma guilty of contempt of the commission and impose a prison term. 

Zondo said the commission viewed Zuma’s snub in a serious light. He said if Zuma was allowed to get away with ignoring the commission then there would be lawlessness and chaos in the courts. The commission views Mr Zuma’s conduct in a very serious light, particularly because it is repeated conduct. The commission has not treated Mr Zuma unfairly at all. He has no valid or sound reason for not appearing before the commission,” Zondo said.

The Deputy Chief Justice said it was a pity that Zuma had decided not to appear before the commission, more so because he did so as a former head of state. “It would be a pity if anybody did it, but this was done by a former president of the Republic, someone who stood before the nation and took an oath that he would uphold the constitution of the Republic. It is a great pity,” he said.

Zuma failed to appear today, claiming that the summons forcing him to testify was irregular and not in line with the Constitutional Court order.

Zuma, who is implicated by at least 40 witnesses, said, through his lawyer, that his failure to appear as summoned by Zondo and affirmed by the Constitutional Court, the highest court in the land, should not be construed to suggest any defiance of the legal process.

Zuma’s lawyer Eric Mabuza pointed out that Zuma’s case for Deputy Judge President Raymond Zondo to recuse himself from chairing the commission has not been finalised.

“Appearing before DCJ Zondo in the circumstances would undermine and invalidate the review application over his decision not to recuse himself. We also place on record that the review application was not before the Constitutional Court and, accordingly, was  not considered, determined and/or adjudicated by that court,” Mabuza wrote.

Zondo pointed out that while Zuma said his non-appearance should not be taken as defiance, the former president had expressly, through a media statement, stated that he would deliberately defy the commission.

Zondo also said that if Zuma believed the summons served on him were irregular, he should have challenged it in a court of law. “You can’t just ignore a valid subpoena,” Zondo said.

Advocate Paul Pretorius, leader of evidence at the commission, said there was no basis for Zuma not to appear as scheduled. He said the former president’s failure to appear does not appear to be justified by any valid reason. “Certainly not the reasons given in the letter addressed to the commission as a matter of courtesy this morning,” he said.

Pretorius said apart from the duty to obey the summons, the regulations, terms of reference, Zuma has a constitutional duty, arising from the position that Zuma held as president of the country, to appear before the commission.

“It is also a public duty, owed to the citizens of this country. Manifestly, this commission’s work is a matter of public concern,” he said.

Pretorius started listing the questions Zuma would have faced, starting with his relationship with the Gupta family and their alleged involvement in the appointment of key cabinet positions. 

He said it was clear that the Gupta family had benefited from corrupt or illegal contracts from parastatals. He said there was also substantial evidence that Zuma involved himself directly in the affairs of state-owned entities – Eskom, South Africa Airways, Denel and Transnet.  There was also evidence of vast corruption at the state owned enterprises after key appointments and dismissals were made by or influenced by Zuma.

“Why was Zuma involved in the suspensions that occurred at Eskom? Why would he involve himself in the appointment of the Eskom Board?,” Pretorius asked.

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