Former president Jacob Zuma rejected outright attempts on Monday by the ANC top six leaders to secure an agreement from him to appear before the Zondo commission into state capture. He instead accused the governing party’s national officials of failing to show enough public support for him, arguing that this made it appear that they were “behind” what he called his “persecution” by organs of the state.
Attempts to convince Zuma to appear on the grounds that both ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa and national chairperson Gwede Mantashe would be doing so fell on deaf ears in a meeting that ran from 10.30am to 5.30pm.
Zuma had been scheduled to meet the top six at the party’s Luthuli House headquarters in Johannesburg to discuss his refusal to appear before the Zondo commission. Instead, a virtual meeting was held because of “logistical issues”, according to ANC secretary general Ace Magashule.
Magashule said the top six had agreed to give Zuma “space”’ to continue consulting his lawyers, who failed to meet the Monday deadline for submission opposing the constitutional court hearing into his failure to appear before Zondo. The matter will be heard on March 25.
A source in the ANC with intimate knowledge of what was discussed in the meeting said the top six leaders had tried to reason with Zuma.
The former president had explained in detail his problem with Zondo, who he had accused of acting as judge, jury and executioner by hearing the application for his recusal, rather than requesting that a court or another judge hear it. The source said Zuma had also questioned why Zondo, in heading a commission of inquiry of such great importance, did not have a deputy, who could have heard the recusal application. He had also accused the commission of being orchestrated to pronounce negatively on him.
Zuma had accused the top six of acting as if they were behind his “persecution” and had said he would not take this “treatment” lying down.
Zuma had, the source said, told the top six they had not publicly shown sufficient sympathy for him and were “politicising” their treatment of him.
Mantashe had tried to convince Zuma that he should return to the commission, given that other top leaders, including him and Ramaphosa, had committed to appearing before Zondo.
The source said the ANC’s top officials had agreed to allow Zuma to continue to exhaust all legal avenues before going to the commission — but they had not secured a guarantee from him that he would appear before Zondo.
Despite the failure to shift Zuma, Magashule described the seven-hour meeting as “a very good meeting, very constructive, energising and giving hope” when he addressed a media briefing on Monday night.
He said the top six had agreed to give Zuma “space” to continue consulting his lawyers and to “continuously engage” with him on issues including “the Zondo commission as you are now calling it.”
The top six and Zuma had agreed that “the constitution of the county is an important instrument … [and] that it is also important to understand and respect the bill of rights”.
Zuma had not refused to appear before the commission but had “issues” with Zondo, according to Magashule.
“We all agreed that there had not been any intention to undermine the constitution of South Africa.”
It was “not the first time” the judiciary had been criticised, Magashule said, adding that the criticism had “happened with respect”.
Magashule said Zuma had made an “‘extensive presentation” about how he had been “subjected to unfair persecution and prosecution over two decades”.
“The tops six agreed to give him space to continue consulting with his lawyers on these issues which he has actually raised. Whether to appear before the judicial commission of inquiry, we have left that matter because he will further consult with his lawyers,” Magashule said.