Civil society organisations have called on Deputy Judge President Raymond Zondo, who is chairing the commission of inquiry into state capture, to not treat certain witnesses with kid gloves, and to robustly apply the principle of equality before the law.
According to a joint statement by the Civil Society Working Group on State Capture, which includes the Right2Know Campaign, Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse, Section27 and Corruption Watch UK, treating witnesses differently would set a bad precedent.
The organisations were referring to the testimony and treatment of former president Jacob Zuma, who appeared before the commission last week.
Other endorsing bodies include Open Secrets, #Unitebehind, the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, Alternative Information and Development Centre, the Centre for Change, the Centre for Complex Systems in Transition, My Vote Counts and the Southern African Faith Communities Environment Institute.
"The decision by the Zondo commission not to hold former president Jacob Zuma to account risks setting a negative precedent," the statement reads.
"Other perpetrators called to appear, including CEOs of large banks, law firms, auditing firms and politicians, could now demand similar advantages, threatening the objectivity of the commission and thereby playing into the hands of the powerful."
The organisations said that Zuma had used the commission to present himself as a victim of political machinations and foreign and domestic spies.
"He has deliberately avoided evidence-based questions through feigning memory loss, demeaning the work of the commission and threatening to withdraw from the process. His conduct is reminiscent of the Stalingrad strategy he used to great effect for many years to avoid accountability."
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The statement says that the Commissions Act empowers Zondo to compel individuals to give testimony and evidence.
"It also empowers the evidence leaders to examine all witnesses in the public interest. The Act protects witnesses from criminal liability through self-incrimination, but it equally empowers the commission to hold witnesses criminally liable if they give false evidence or refuse to comply with the process."
They added that the commission should desist from the practice of inviting parties to the commission and rather use the subpoena powers when engaging all witnesses.
"The consequences of state capture are dire and felt by millions of people for whom poverty was deepened by this cabal of corrupt elites in the private and public sector. It is crucial that the Zondo commission now exposes evidence of these crimes so that other state intuitions can hold them to account."
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