- During a state capture inquiry sitting on Tuesday night, advocate Dali Mpofu said Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan and his advocate Michelle le Roux must "shut up".
- Raymond Zondo on Thursday expressed "extreme concern" over Mpofu's "unacceptable" conduct, but stopped short of announcing that he would lay a misconduct complaint against him.
- The GCB has now confirmed that, following a complaint by a member of the public, Mpofu's conduct will be the subject of a formal investigation.
Advocate Dali Mpofu will be investigated for professional misconduct over his "shut up" comments at the Zondo commission and his subsequent tweet about the incident, the General Council of the Bar (GCB) has confirmed.
GCB chairperson Craig Watt-Pringle on Friday told News24 that the Johannesburg Society of Advocates’ professional committee would investigate the complaint lodged against Mpofu by a member of the public.
The complaint relates to events that played out at the inquiry on Tuesday night, when Mpofu stated that Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan and his advocate Michelle le Roux must "shut up" while he objected to Le Roux’s line of questioning of Gordhan. Mpofu had been given an hour to complete his cross-examination of Gordhan for Tom Moyane, who has sought to portray the minister as a corrupt racist who was "jealous" of his achievements as SARS commissioner.
Le Roux wanted to ask the minister how he felt about being referred to as a racist by Moyane. Mpofu objected, and became irate when Le Roux then attempted to explain the reasons behind her question.
"Chair, I am on the floor. Really, I can't stand this," Mpofu said.
When a visibly shocked Gordhan exclaimed "Yhoo", Mpofu hit back with: "You too, Mr Gordhan. I am still on the floor, may you also shut up."
During the altercation, Zondo repeatedly asked Mpofu to "sit down" while he listened to Le Roux’s explanation for her question. Mpofu initially refused to do so and then threatened to leave the commission. But he eventually did sit down, as Le Roux unsuccessfully attempted to persuade Zondo that he should give Gordhan "the opportunity to explain to you and to the country quite frankly how he feels as a person when he is accused of being a racist by Mr Moyane".
After Zondo refused to grant Le Roux the right to ask that question, she completed her re-examination. Mpofu expressed his unhappiness at what he perceived as the mistreatment of Moyane and his lawyers "in this commission".
"I was speaking. I did not interrupt when Ms Le Roux was making objections and I am in the process of making an objection, and I do not know on what basis I should be told to sit down when I am still speaking and she has interrupted me," he said.
On Thursday, Zondo paused an inquiry hearing to publicly express his "extreme concern" over that interaction.
"I have never heard any lawyer in any court proceedings or any commission forum tell another lawyer to 'shut up'. Or a witness," he said.
"No legal practitioner, including Mr Mpofu, has a right to begin to tell any other person in this commission to shut up… even I would not use the words 'shut up'. That conduct is unacceptable to this commission and it is important that the public and other legal practitioners should know that this conduct is not acceptable in this commission."
'I will not allow, irrespective of who does it'
But, while Zondo expressed his unhappiness over Mpofu’s comments and his initial refusal to sit down when ordered to do so, the Deputy Chief Justice stopped short of stating that he would lodge a complaint against the advocate with the Legal Practice Council or GCB. Instead, he said that he may "have to consider what to do in the future if a witness, or an implicated person or his or her lawyer is not prepared to subject themselves to the authority and instructions of the chairperson".
"Where everyone or anyone can stand up and tell other people in the proceedings to 'shut up' and not rather request the chairperson to ask the other person to please keep quiet while they speak, if that is allowed, then there will be chaos in proceedings of this commission and that, I will not allow. Irrespective of who does it," Zondo stated.
He also stressed that, "not only was disrespect shown to some of the people in the hearing, but also it was shown to the commission and to me, as the chairperson".
Less than half an hour after Zondo’s announcement, Mpofu had responded in a tweet that strongly suggested that he regarded his conduct as a response to racism: "I’m SO available for this fight.. For the dignity of black people & black professionals, specifically those who are willing to be free from MENTAL SLAVERY! After 369 years we have run out of “other cheeks” to turn. RACISM AND ITS APOLOGISTS MUST AND WILL FALL! Lets get it on!"
Watt-Pringle told SAfm’s Stephen Grootes that he found it "disappointing" that Mpofu had chosen to "play the race card" in his response to Zondo’s comments.
It is understood that Mpofu’s tweet will form part of the misconduct complaint against him, which centres on his alleged violation of the professional code of conduct for advocates. He also stands accused of demonstrating contempt towards Zondo and the commission.