Proceedings on the third day of former president Jacob Zuma’s testimony before the Zondo commission were stalled on Wednesday morning as the legal teams representing the commission and Zuma clashed on how the former president ought to be questioned.
Kicking off the proceedings, the commission’s legal head and evidence leader, Paul Pretorius, requested permission to pose further questions to Zuma, “seeking clarity on the termination of the contract” of former chief executive officer of the Government Communication and Information Systems and government spokesperson, Themba Maseko.
Given that Pretorius had already questioned Zuma on the allegations made by Maseko during Tuesday’s proceedings, Zuma’s lawyer Muzi Sikhakhane objected to the request.
“We, as Zuma’s legal team, do not understand the reason Pretorius is taking us back to addressing matters our client has already responded to,” Sikhakhane said.
Pretorius said having had time to think through the questions he had previously asked and the answers given, it was necessary to pose further questions to the former president, as “there were some matters left open ended”.
It would benefit the witness that further specific questions be directed at him, he said.
Sikhakhane questioned why his client and legal team were furnished “with a list of individuals” whose testimony had implicated the former president “if the chronology of that very list would not be adhered to”.
He also argued that the advocate’s manner of questioning amounted to “a procedural issue”.
Sikhakhane labelled Pretorius’ approach as a “to and from”, since Pretorius had moved on to questions about the testimony of former public enterprises minister Barbara Hogan, and “then now sought to return to Maseko”.
An irate Pretorius contended to at “the manner in which [Zuma’s legal team] sought to control the manner in which the commission’s legal team has prepared its questions”.
Commission chairperson, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, weighed in on the impasse saying in his view it was “manageable [to go back to asking questions on issues raised by Maseko] as long as Zuma is able to deal with the questions, and if the questions are related to topics and evidence of a certain witness discussed with Zuma earlier”.
The two legal teams have been at loggerheads even before Zuma’s appearance before the commission.
Zuma’s lawyer, Daniel Mantsha, raised concerns over the commission’s legal team’s refusal to grant them the exact questions that his client would be asked.
He argued that the commission “sought to ambush and humiliate Zuma” and that during his testimony, the former president’s legal team has continued to express similar views.
The hostility has not only been directed at the commission’s legal team but towards Zondo as well.
In a letter to the State Capture Commission of Inquiry and addressed directly to the chairperson, Mantsha questioned a press statement it circulated last month and sentiments that were previously uttered by Zondo.
“Your press statement, the chairperson’s previous public comments about our client and the refusal to furnish us with specific questions, have left us with the distinct impression that the commission views our client as an accused and does not require our assistance in its truth-finding mandate,” read Mantsha’s letter.
There have also been numerous interjections from the Zuma’s legal representative during the three days he has been on the stand.
Thabani Masuku, another of Zuma’s lawyers, has even gone as far as implying that the commission’s legal team was “attempting to criminally entrap” the former president.