Zondo: Zuma was MEC, not president so he couldn’t boost my judicial career

Jacob Zuma’s lawyer argued on Monday at the state capture inquiry that Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo had a “reasonable apprehension of bias” based on comments he had made to “sweetheart witnesses”.

During the application for Zondo’s recusal advocate Muzi Sikhakhane contended that the commission’s chairperson had prejudged Zuma “as the bad guy”.

Zondo read out a statement before the recusal application, detailing the background of his relationship with Zuma, and how the former president had no influence on appointment as a judge. 

Zondo said he had known Zuma since the early 1990s when he was in private practice as a lawyer in Durban and Zuma was a leader of the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal. He said his work was connected with the ANC, of which he was a supporter.

“After my appointment as a judge in 1997 my interactions with Mr Zuma were of a personal nature and largely occurred when we met in government functions …  Our personal relationship has been a cordial and pleasant one over the years but did not, generally speaking, involve discussions of any serious matters …

“Although Mr Zuma and I have a cordial relationship … Mr Zuma’s statement that we are friends is not accurate. In this regard I highlight the following: 

“Mr Zuma has never been to any of the houses in which I have lived with my family since the early 1990s and I’ve never invited him. … He has also never been to any of the places in Gauteng in which I have lived over the past 23 or 24 years since my appointment as a judge in 1997,” Zondo said.

“… I have never invited Mr Zuma to any private functions, including my birthdays, since I met him in the early 1990s. He has also never invited me to any of his birthday parties …

“Mr Zuma does not get told when there is a death in my family. As a result he has never attended any of the family funerals we have had since I got to know  him, even though since the early 1990s to date I have lost four siblings and my mother. I have never attended a funeral of any member of the Zuma family.”

In his affidavit Zuma said he remembered an occasion when Zondo was elevated to the Bench the two discussed whether their “personal relationship” would “jeopardise” his judicial career.  

Zondo said in his statement that “No such ever took place or could have taken place between myself and Mr Zuma … My elevation took place in 1997. Mr Zuma was not president in 1997; he was MEC for economic development in KwaZulu-Natal … he could not have had any influence in my rise in my judicial career.  

Sikhakhane said his client’s invitation to the commission was akin to being led into “a slaughterhouse”. 

“Reduced to its essential elements, this application seeks to persuade you … to look honestly and sincerely at some of the comments [you have made]. We contend to you that they would frighten a litigant that is sitting in front of you.

“I’m appealing to your psyche, I’m appealing to your honesty about” what he called Zondo’s “errors”.

The comments Sikhakhane referred to were about former public enterprises minister Barabra Hogan, whom Zondo had thanked at the end of her 2018 testimony. 

Sikhakhane referred to a question that Zondo had asked Hogan relating to Zuma’s alleged support of former Eskom chief executive Jacob Maroga, who the board supposedly wanted to be removed in 2010.

“But on the face of it, it seems to me that what you were told on the phone [by Zuma] was that Mr Maroga was going to continue as [chief executive] of Eskom,” Zondo is said to have commented to Hogan. 

Sikhakhane said Zondo had asked Hogan: “Did you get an impression that there may have been private meetings between the president and Mr Maroga?” 

Sikhakhane argued that these questions and comments were allegedly planted in the mind of the witness (Hogan) to sway her and that it painted a picture that Zondo agreed with her that Zuma “was a bad man”. 

Sikhakhane said Zuma had not brought the recusal application lightly because he didn’t question that chairperson’s integrity, but rather “reasonable perceptions of impartiality”. 

It is unclear when Zondo will rule on the recusal application. The inquiry continues.

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