/ 3 February 2021

Commission takes hard line on Zuma

United Nations 71st Session Of The General Debate
The Zondo commission will file a fresh criminal complaint against Zuma and has hinted that it will follow up with an application for a contempt order mid-month if he fails to testify. (Photo by Peter Foley - Pool/Getty Images)

The Zondo commission is ready to throw the book at former president Jacob Zuma after he said he would defy a Constitutional Court order to testify at the state capture inquiry in less than a fortnight.

In a statement on Tuesday night, the commission termed Zuma’s stance totally unacceptable.

“Mr Zuma’s decision that he will defy the order of the country’s highest court and the summons of the Commission is completely unacceptable in a constitutional democracy such as ours,” it said. 

“It seems that Mr Zuma considers himself to be above the law and the Constitution. The commission reiterates that in terms of the Constitution everyone is equal before the law. This constitutional guarantee must be given effect to.”

The commission warned that if Zuma failed to present himself to take the witness stand on 15 February, as per a summons that has now been made an order of the Constitutional Court, he would be acting in contempt of the apex court.

Should this transpire, it would on the same day announce steps to sanction his conduct.

“Should Mr Zuma carry out his decision not to appear before the commission on 15 February 2021 and, therefore, act in breach of the summons and in contempt of the order of the Constitutional Court, the commission will announce on that day what further action it will take in regard to such conduct.” 

For now, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo has instructed the secretary of the commission, Itumeleng Mosala, to lay a second criminal charge against Zuma in terms of the Commissions Act for flouting an earlier summons to testify from 18 to 22 January. 

This adds to a first charge filed with the Hillbrow police in early December for absconding from a sitting of the commission where Zondo dismissed Zuma’s application that he recuse himself.

It was after this breach, and with the lifespan of the commission nearing its end, that Zondo adopted a hard line against Zuma and urgently petitioned the Constitutional Court for an order compelling the former president to comply with its directives.

The court ruling, handed down last week, was scathing of Zuma for flouting the law and obstructing the work of the commission.

“The respondent’s conduct in defying the process lawfully issued under the authority of the law is antithetical to our constitutional order,” Justice Chris Jafta said.

“We must remember that this is a republic of laws where the Constitution is supreme. Disobeying its laws amounts to a direct breach of the rule of law, one of the values underlying the Constitution and which forms part of the supreme law.”

But the court also criticised the commission for being too lenient for too long towards Zuma as he routinely stonewalled its inquiry into grand corruption during his presidency.

Zondo could respond to further defiance by asking the court to find Zuma in contempt and to impose a prison penalty.

In his statement on Monday, Zuma declared that he was prepared to risk jail rather than oblige the commission and launched a personal attack on Zondo, in which he suggested that Zondo had in the past sought his help to secure promotion on the bench, had a close relationship with one of his estranged wives and had failed to pay maintenance for a child he fathered with her sister.

The commission said Zondo would respond to these allegations in a separate statement.