Jacob Zuma digs in heels, says he won't appear before Zondo commission

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  • Zuma's lawyers say he won't show up at the state capture commission of inquiry, despite inquiry threats of criminal sanction.
  • The Constitutional Court has reserved judgment on the inquiry's urgent bid to compel Zuma to appear and answer questions.
  • Zuma's lawyers are adamant he can only be forced to appear once his legal bid to force the recusal of the inquiry chairperson has been decided.
  • Zondo will now need to decide whether to lay a second set of contempt charges against Zuma, who walked out of the inquiry in November.

Former president Jacob Zuma's lawyers have told the state capture commission of inquiry that he will not appear before Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo on Monday – and they are adamant that Zuma can only be forced to appear once his legal bid for Zondo's recusal as the commission chairperson has been decided.

Zuma's lawyers are also adamant that, because the inquiry is seeking a ruling from the Constitutional Court that will compel him to answer questions without enabling him to invoke his constitutional right to remain silent, he cannot be expected to appear until that judgment is given.

In the circumstances, Zuma's attorney, Eric Mabuza, told the inquiry that "the summons purporting to compel [former] president Zuma to appear before his review is finally determined and even before the Constitutional Court has delivered judgment on the question of his constitutional rights, cannot be legally enforced at this stage".

Jacob Zuma at the Zondo commission
Former president Jacob Zuma at the Zondo commission.

"It is for all the reasons mentioned above that we respectfully submit that [former] president Zuma will not be appearing before the commission on 18-22 January 2021. Accordingly, counsel will not be briefed to appear."

In a letter sent to inquiry secretary Professor Itumeleng Mosala on Friday morning, Mabuza made it clear that the former head of state and his legal team "respectfully" disagreed with "the commission's view that [former] president Zuma is obliged to appear on 18-22 January 2021".

He was responding to a letter the commission sent to Zuma on Monday.

In that letter, Mosala told Zuma that, even if the Constitutional Court had not ruled on the commission's application to compel him to appear and answer questions at the inquiry, "you are obliged to comply with the summons and appear before it because the summons remains valid and binding on you since it has not been withdrawn, set aside or suspended".

"Therefore, the commission wishes to make it clear to you that any failure on your part, without sufficient cause, to appear before it on the 18th to 22nd January 2021 will constitute a criminal offence."

Mabuza however contends that, until Zuma's challenge to Zondo's refusal to recuse himself from hearing matters concerning him and his family is decided, he cannot be legally obliged to appear before the inquiry.

The attorney added:

We remind the commission that it deemed it appropriate to approach the Constitutional Court on an extremely urgent basis to compel [former] president Zuma to comply with the very same summons that the commission now wants to enforce and to forego some of his most fundamental rights.

"The commission must therefore await the outcome of the decision of the Constitutional Court."

While at pains to state that Zuma's stance "should never be construed to suggest any disrespect or defiance of a legal process", Mabuza again accused the commission of continuing "to display conduct that shows clear bias against [former] president Zuma."

"In this instance, the commission now seeks to undermine a pending Constitutional Court judgment in pursuance of [former] president Zuma".

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