/ 28 August 2018

Ngidi withdraws from Zondo commission citing time constraints

The commission said Ngidi
The commission said Ngidi, whose law firm had been appointed to make the commission’s High Court application to extend its term to two years, had informed them that he would not have time to do the job. (Muntu Vilakazi/The Sunday Times)

The appointment of Durban attorney Zibuse Comfort Ngidi, a staunch ally of former president Jacob Zuma, to the Zondo commission investigating state capture, has been halted.

On Tuesday, commission communications head Reverend Mbuyiselo Stemela said Ngidi had withdrawn his application to act as a legal adviser to one of the commission’s investigative teams.

The withdrawal of Ngidi, who led a campaign to undermine the findings of former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s report into the R248-million upgrade of Zuma’s Nxamalala home, comes after a Mail & Guardian report on Friday that he was to be appointed to the highly sensitive post.

Stemela said that Ngidi, whose law firm had been appointed to make the commission’s High Court application to extend its term to two years, had informed them that he would not have time to do the job.

“The reasons advanced by Mr Ngidi for the withdrawal of his request include that when he made his request, the commission was meant to complete its work within six months, but now it has said that it needs 24 months and he would not be available for such a long time,” Stemela said.

Last week Zondo told the M&G Ngidi’s appointment was subject to him undergoing a security assessment process. Zondo had also asked Ngidi for his response on questions related to the M&G’s queries and another matter, which he declined to elaborate on.

Ngidi, the chairperson of the South African Post Office (SAPO) board and a board member of the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation acted as national chairperson of an organisation calling itself the Concerned Lawyers and Educationists for Equality Before the Law, which set out to challenge the findings of Madonsela’s ‘Secure in Comfort’ report.

The report revealed Zuma and his family had personally benefited from the R246 million “security upgrade” to his family home at Nxamalala near Nkandla. Zuma eventually paid back R7.8-million for the “non-security” component of the upgrade, which included a cattle kraal and swimming pool.

The Constitutional Court eventually ruled that Madonsela had correctly classified these features as ‘non-security’, ordering the national treasury to assess how much Zuma should pay and giving him 45 days to do so.

A second Madonsela report, ‘State of Capture’, resulted in the creation of the state capture commission, on which Ngidi was set to serve.

The group set out to highlight “glaring flaws”, inaccuracies, inconsistencies and contradictions’’ in the public protector’s report on Nkandla.

Ngidi said that issue of potential conflict of interest was not a consideration in his decision to withdraw.

“When I made my application to join the commission the term was six months. I have now had the opportunity of being appointed to deal with the extension of 180 days. I realised that they will need the minimum of two years. I cannot afford to be away from my practice for that period of time — it will kill my practice,” he said.

Ngidi said he had also been “not too excited” about undergoing security clearance.

“I cannot subject myself to a security clearance as a matter of principle. I am of the view that the Attorneys Act, combined with the ethical practices of the profession, would be adequate to deal with the situation of how an attorney conducts themselves,” Ngidi said.

“The issue of conflict of interest was not a consideration. The opinion I secured from senior counsel made that clear,” he said. “This is a job that had to be taken seriously and done properly.”