Former president Jacob Zuma has given his own, alternative version of events that led to his impending incarceration of 15 months after he was found guilty of contempt by the Constitutional Court.
And, on this basis, he would not turn himself over to the police as mandated by the apex court on Tuesday.
On Sunday afternoon, among a crowd of his supporters who gathered outside his home in contravention of the Covid-19 regulations, the former president made reference to a conspiracy that involved who he called the “beautiful little girl” (former public protector Thuli Mandonsela), the judiciary and his political rivals.
“This problem that has upset people was not supposed to go this far. We are arguing over a small thing that took a life of its own. We argue over a judge … It is my right to say I don’t want to go to a commission chaired by this person,” Zuma said.
Taking his supporters on a trip back to 2016, the former president said he started filling in the gaps in a conspiracy against him when Madonsela recommended that Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng take charge of appointing the commission chair in her state of capture report.
Zuma said Mandonsela made a mistake that would cause a domino effect, leading to his standoff with Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo.
“The problem started with that girl, which means it was concocted somewhere that Zuma must not choose the commission chair. It means the judge was already chosen,” he said.
Zuma told his supporters that retired Cape Town high court Judge Siraj Desai was Mogoeng’s initial choice; however, Mogoeng changed his decision and instead opted for Zondo.
“I’m telling you because this process was never legitimate in the first place,” he said.
Zuma earlier this year made the same claim about Mogoeng’s decision to appoint Zondo, ironically in a statement in February in which he also said he did not fear being convicted or arrested.
In October 2016, Zuma went to court to challenge Madonsela’s report on state capture, including her directive that he appoint a judicial commission of inquiry but that it be headed by a judge named not by him but by the chief justice.
In his speech to supporters, he failed to mention that he had tried to challenge the process and failed.
In that case, the Pretoria high court ruled that “the personal conflict of the president presents an insurmountable obstacle for him and lends credence to the conception of the remedial action by the public protector”.
In other words, it agreed with Madonsela that because Zuma was personally implicated in the scandal she was probing, he could not designate the chairman of the inquiry that had to take the investigation further.
Judge Dunstan Mlambo described Zuma’s challenge as reckless and “a non-starter” and punished him with a cost order.
But, in his last-ditch application to the apex court on Friday to avert going to prison, Zuma again tried to to argue that the Zondo commission was not established in terms of the constitution
“That issue will be the albatross around the neck of its legitimacy,” he wrote. Analysts have said the former president is pre-emptively attacking the credibility of the commission to undermine any eventual findings implicating him in state capture.
Zuma’s initial troubles with the Constitutional Court emerged after he refused to appear before Zondo arguing that there was a conflict of interest, because the two men had a personal relationship.
He then went on to call for Zondo to recuse himself. Zondo’s refusal after he heard arguments from Zuma’s lawyers resulted in the former president’s dramatic walkout from the commission.
Zuma now claims this was not a walk out, but a moment for him to take his medication.
Zondo then subpoenaed Zuma, leading to a trail of defiance by the former statesman.
“It was strange that when a judge is wrong, he sits over his own recusal,” he said.
Zuma said he and his lawyers found it odd that the state capture commission chair did not have a person deputising for him. This, he said, was unique, because all commissions had a deputy who takes over when a witness is in conflict with its chair.
“We asked him why there was no deputy and he said he did that because he did not want a dissenting voice. All I want to say is that I said I am not coming back because I saw it as a problem. If I say he must recuse himself, who will take his place because he is the chair and the speaker and everything,” Zuma told supporters.
Accusing Zondo of taking his application for recusal personally, Zuma said when the case landed in the Constitutional Court, he was “hopeful”.
“I thought they were respectable men and women who would make a decision for this matter to be taken down to the lower courts. My constitutional right is being stripped by people who should uphold the constitution. I said I won’t go to state capture and I won’t even go to the Constitutional Court,” Zuma said. “I fought for this country to be liberated. I will not allow that right to be taken away from me.”
He added that the standoff between him and the commission was over Zondo’s refusal to allow the matter to be ventilated by the high court.
“… In any court, if you don’t agree with a judge and you want to take it to another court, a judge can’t continue with the process. You must allow the court process to finish. But he [Zondo] continued and he threatened to use the highest court to force me. He abused his power…” Zuma continued.
He thanked his supporters who had gathered at his family homestead in Nkandla since Tuesday when Justice Sisi Khampepe delivered her damning judgment.
The former president said he was proud to see his supporters coming out in their numbers to show that “injustice would not be tolerated”.
“It makes me happy and hopeful to know that while you are still here, this country will not be sold and used for political war. This gives me hope that I will make it to my 80th birthday. I thank you for coming to my defence when the judgment was handed down and I hope that you see it like I do — that it was very extraordinary,” he said.
“What is happening makes me want to fight again for our freedoms … I am nothing, but you said ‘he will never be arrested for nothing’. You did that within the confines of the law — that people have a right to freedom of speech,” he said.
Zuma was addressing the hundreds of his supporters who gathered in contravention of the lockdown regulations while the country grapples with a third wave of Covid-19 infections.
He defended those gathered at his home as defenders of the democratic right to freedom of speech.
Meanwhile suspended ANC secretary general Ace Magashule, who was also in attendance, called for a rebellion among branches and structures of the ANC.
“People want to end the ANC. They want to disband and remove comrades. When they disband you as a branch, you must still be a branch. When they expel you, you must still be a member of the ANC. When they disband a region, you must still be a region because you were elected,” said Magashule, who is also on a collision course with the party’s highest leadership.
Some of those who flanked Zuma included former SAA board chairperson Dudu Myeni, Tony Yengeni, and Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans’ Association spokesperson Carl Niehaus.