/ 26 November 2020

General Council of the Bar slams Zuma Foundation

Play-off: Tembeka Ngcukaitobi scored when he used the public protector’s own words — that she was ‘playing a chess game’.
The General Council of the Bar of South Africa has rounded on the Jacob Zuma Foundation for its “unrestrained” attacks on the Zondo Commission, the latest of which impugned its decision to brief advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi SC in its legal battle with the former president. (Herman Verwey/AFP)

The Zondo Commission has served summons anew on former president Jacob Zuma, instructing him to testify before it from January 18 to 22 next year.

On Thursday, the secretariat of the commission said the summons was served on Zuma at his home in Nkandla earlier this week.

The confirmation comes as the standoff between the commission probing state capture and the man whose presidency came to define it begins to embroil the wider legal fraternity.

The General Council of the Bar (GCB) of South Africa has rounded on the Jacob Zuma Foundation for its “unrestrained” attacks on the Zondo Commission, the latest of which impugned its decision to brief advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi in its legal battle with the former president.

The foundation’s allegations were so far-fetched and unfounded that they constituted an attack on the rule of law by someone who has personally signalled that he intends to flout it, the GCB said.

“It does not behove an ex-president to make unfounded claims of an infringement of the rule of law whilst simultaneously brazenly thumbing his nose at the very principle that he claims to champion,” the GCB said.

The strongly worded statement was issued on Wednesday, six days after the latest charge from Zuma’s corner, as his supporters and legal counsel seek to discredit the commission politically.

Last Thursday, Zuma and advocate Muzi Sikhakhane walked out of the commission without permission after Zondo dismissed their application for him to recuse himself for allegedly having abandoned objectivity.

On the same day, the former president’s eponymous foundation issued a statement suggesting that a consultation between Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, the commission chair, and Ngcukaitobi was “irregular” and deeply concerning.

It also branded the commission “a comedy of errors” and accused Zondo of “evil intentions”.

The commission had asked Ngcukaitobi to meet with Zondo, draft papers and appear in court to represent it “in regard to Mr Jacob Zuma’s contemplated failure to comply with the commission’s summons” to testify.

The brief to Ngcukaitobi was signed by Itumeleng Mosala, the secretary of the commission, and related to probing a string of rent-seeking scandals that date, for the most part, from Zuma’s nine years in office.

The foundation’s attack was, in part based, on the fact that Ngcukaitobi, an acclaimed and outspoken lawyer who has frequently appeared for the Economic Freedom Fighters, had in the past represented other witnesses who testified before the commission.   

“There is no warrant for unfounded, unrestrained extra-curial attacks on the commission or its personnel or the legal counsel who participate in its proceedings,” the bar council said.

“Given that the JG Zuma Foundation has furthermore failed to identify any other legitimate basis that could possibly give rise to these conclusions, the GCB condemns them as a dangerous, unjustified and cynical attack on the rule of law.

“These comments are especially worthy of censure in circumstances where the statement itself indicates that Mr Zuma is prepared to ‘face jail’, and thus evidently recognises that his conduct in failing to comply with the commission’s subpoena and directions exposes him to prosecution and imprisonment.”

Zondo on Monday announced that he would lay criminal charges against Zuma for defying a summons, issue another summons and seek an urgent Constitutional Court order compelling him to comply with it.

Ngcukaitobi is handling the application, but commission spokesman Mbuyiselo Stemela on Thursday said it had yet to be filed. 

Legal minds are divided on whether the unusual step to seek direct access to the Constitutional Court will succeed, because the matter is not within its exclusive jurisdiction. 

Should Zondo obtain the order, Zuma would find himself in contempt of court for defying the fresh summons and face summary arrest.

Ngcukaitobi’s cellphone was off at the time of writing, amid reports that he had suffered harassment since it became known that he would act for the commission.