Cape Town – On the eve of a crucial meeting of the ANC's national executive committee (NEC) – expected to discuss his recall – President Jacob Zuma announced the establishment of the long-awaited commission of inquiry into state capture, saying "the matter cannot wait any longer".
"Pursuant to the investigation and remedial action of the Public Protector regarding complaints and allegations of the State of Capture, as well as the orders issued by the North Gauteng High Court in its judgment of 14 December 2017, I have decided to appoint a commission of inquiry," Zuma said in a statement released on Tuesday evening, shortly before 19:30.
Zuma said the commission would be headed by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo.
Zondo was recommended by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, as ordered by previous Public Protector Thuli Madonsela in her report, State of Capture, released in October 2016.
The North Gauteng High Court ordered that the Public Protector's remedial action is binding and that Zuma had to appoint a commission of inquiry within 30 days, headed by a judge selected solely by Mogoeng. The court also ordered that Zuma personally pay the costs of the review.
The ANC's elective conference in Johannesburg last month decided that the inquiry should be expedited. However, two days after the conclusion of the conference, Zuma filed his appeal.
Parliament to start working on 'impeachment' rules
In the days since, requests for Zuma to resign or for his removal have been mooted, with his failure to appoint the commission believed to be one of the things being held against him. Matters are expected to come to a head at Wednesday's NEC meeting, the first of the newly elected committee with Cyril Ramaphosa as the party's president.
Parliament is also due to start working on the rules governing the removal of the president in terms of section 89 of the Constitution, often called impeachment.
Zuma said in his statement that he was "concerned that this matter (the state capture inquiry) has ccupied the public mind for some time now and deserves urgent attention".
"I have only appealed the orders to the extent that they set a particular precedent for the Office of the President of the Republic and are indeed deserving of legal certainty," he said.
"The allegations that the state has been wrestled out of the hands of its real owners, the people of South Africa, is of paramount importance and are therefore deserving of finality and certainty."
"Accordingly, I have decided that, while the issues determined by the order require final determination by higher courts, this matter cannot wait any longer."
He said further delays in appointing the commission would make the public doubt government's commitment to dismantling "all forms of corruption" and entrench "the perception" that the state has been captured by private interests.
Deputy chief justice in the Constitutional Court Raymond Zondo. (City Press)
The inquiry's terms of reference were not included in the statement, but Zuma said: "The commission must seek to uncover not just the conduct of some, but of all those who may have rendered our state or parts thereof vulnerable to control by forces other than the public for which government is elected.
"There should be no area of corruption and culprit that should be spared the extent of this commission of inquiry."
Zuma said he was mindful of the Public Protector's concerns about limited resources, and he hoped that by making more resources available to the commission, the inquiry would reach the areas that the Public Protector could not.
"I have considered this matter very carefully, including the unprecedented legal implications of the order directing the Chief Justice to select a single judge to head the commission of inquiry. I have expressed my reservations about the legality of this directive, which may be the subject of the appeal," said Zuma.
"I would like to emphasise that I have faith in all the judges and their ability to execute their tasks with the requisite levels of fairness, impartiality and independence."
He urged all relevant parties to cooperate with the commission.
"I trust that we will all respect the process and place no impediments to prevent the commission from doing its work."