/ 19 July 2019

Zuma wants out of Zondo commission

(Wikus de Wet/Pool/AFP)
In his latest bid for the removal of Billy Downer from the arms deal trial, the former president claims the prosecutor fuelled the narrative that he wants to delay the case (Wikus de Wet/Pool/AFP)



Former president Jacob Zuma, through his legal counsel, has indicated that he does not want to take part in the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture any further.

When the commission — chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo — reconvened on Friday, Muzi Sikhkakhane SC, acting on behalf of Zuma, revealed that his client “will take no further part in these proceedings”, arguing that he had been “relentlessly” cross-examined.

This new development comes after the head of the commission’s legal team, Paul Pretorius SC, indicated that it does not intend to make any concessions by changing its line of questioning.

Zuma was scheduled to appear before the commission on Thursday, but the commission took the day off to solve an impasse that had arisen between the commission and the former president’s legal teams.

During his appearance before the commission on Wednesday, Zuma complained that he was being cross-examined by Pretorius. Pretorius was questioning the former president on the evidence of former public enterprises minister Barbara Hogan, who appeared before the commission last November.

“I have a problem because I am being made to go through the details, that are the details of the officials. And expected to remember every other detail on the work that is generally done by the DGs [directors general] and the officials … I have a problem,” Zuma said when the commission reconvened after the lunch break on Wednesday.

Following an objection from Sikhakhane, who said his client had been invited to the commission “under false pretences”, proceedings were adjourned. Zondo said he believed there were “reasonable prospects that a way will be found that we can proceed with a certain understanding”.

But by Friday no such understanding had been reached and a heated back-and-forth ensued between Zuma’s legal team and the commission.

Pretorius said that the commission’s legal team would not endeavour to “soften” the questions it puts to Zuma, arguing that this would be unfair to the commission’s other witnesses.

“If the questions are detailed and if the questions and difficult … so be it,” Pretorius said.

He also disputed the complaint that Zuma had been “cross-examined” by the commission.

“In relation to the particular issue of so-called cross-examination … Should there be an objection to any particular question … you can make your determination, he said.

“We are not only entitled, but obliged to ask those questions,” Pretorius added, arguing that the term “cross-examination” has been used incorrectly to characterise all questions that may be perceived as difficult to answer.

Pretorius cited the rules of the commission, which stipulate: “A member of the commission’s legal team may put questions to a witness whose evidence is presented to the commission by the commission’s legal team including questions aimed at assisting the commission in assessing the truthfulness of the evidence of a witness. Subject to the directions of the chairperson, the commission’s legal team may ask leading questions.”

He added that the commission cannot “limit our own powers” in this regard.

Sikhakhane hit back at the commission’s legal team, arguing their client had been treated unfairly and suggesting that this treatment is politically motivated.

He argued that the impasse that had arisen between Zuma’s legal team and the commission was a “crisis” that has been created by the commission’s legal team, which he called “inefficient”.

Addressing Zondo, Sikhakhane said: “Chair it is important that as the right hand of this place, the judge, the second-most senior judge in this country, to know whether your left hand [the commission’s legal team] is acting in good faith without political influence and whether these things they are doing are by mistake or by design.”

Reluctant to make a ruling, Zondo asked for a consultation with Zuma’s legal team and the commission’s legal team in his chambers in the hopes of coming to an understanding.

He emphasised, however, that he will not ask either side to “compromise their own rights or obligations”.