The Zondo commission’s public remarks on former president Jacob Zuma have been interpreted by the latter and his legal team as the commission having already judged him as guilty without affording him his right to make his own representations.
In a letter submitted to the state capture commission of inquiry and addressed directly to the commission chairperson, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, Zuma’s lawyer Daniel Mantsha questioned a press statement circulated by the commission last week 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 question 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.”
He added that “this has also left us with the distinct impression that the commission seeks its own truth and to deliver our client to the commission for public display and in order to ambush and humiliate him rather than to fulfil the mandate of the commission as set out in the terms and reference”.
Last week the commission’s spokesperson Mbuyiselo Stemela confirmed that the Zondo commission had set aside July 15 to 19 for the former president to make his counter submissions.
He added that the former president had asked to be furnished with the commission’s questions prior to his appearance before it – a request which was rejected by the Zondo commission.
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Mantsha explained that his correspondence with the commission’s legal team requesting that questions be provided before his client appeared before the commission was accompanied by an undertaking that his client would cooperate with the commission and the request was in line with Rule 3.10 of the commission “in order to ensure that our client can assist the commission fully prepared and thus more meaningfully”.
The commission explained that in setting aside dates it was affording Zuma the opportunity to appear before it and “give his side of the story in response to the statements or affidavits and evidence of certain identified witnesses”.
The call to appear before it came after the former president was repeatedly implicated at the commission by former Government Communication and Information Systems chief executive Themba Maseko, former ANC MP Vytie Mentor, former minister of finance Nhlanhla Nene, Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, former public enterprises minister Barbara Hogan, former mineral resources minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi, Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula and Ramatlhodi’s former adviser Mahlodi Muofhe.
When he appeared before the commission in September last year Maseko submitted that Zuma lobbied for the controversial Gupta family to get business from the state. In his testimony, he revealed how Zuma “personally called” him to ensure that he met the Gupta brothers at their Saxonwold compound in Johannesburg.
Mbalula testified that Zuma first consulted the Gupta family before appointing ministers and informed the commission that he was told by one of the Gupta brothers that he would be appointed sports minister before the president even informed him of this.
Of all the witnesses to have appeared before the commission thus far, Ramatlhodi was the most critical of the former president.
He accused Zuma of “auctioning his executive authority to the Gupta family and allowing the family to walk all over him”.
“There were several times when members in the ANC national executive committee challenged the president to terminate his friendship with the Gupta family. The president’s response would always be ‘this family helped my children when others would not do so, what do you want me to do’,” submitted Ramatlhodi.
In his letter to Zondo, Mantsha said he had hoped that the commission would have found the approach by the former president and his legal team “more sensible” because providing them with questions “would have brought about a much closer approximation to the commission’s mandate (terms of reference) in respect to our client and his true understanding.”
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Mantsha is himself no stranger to controversy. He was once disbarred and is still being probed by the Hawks for state capture allegations.
In 2007, he was allegedly struck off the roll of the Law Society of the Northern Provinces for several infractions, including allegations of embezzlement of funds, dishonesty and unprofessional behaviour, before being readmitted in 2011.
Mantsha was also at former communications minister Faith Muthambi’s side when she appeared before the communications portfolio committee on June 22 to overturn Parliament’s legal opinion that had found that the removal of three SABC board members was unlawful.
Muthambi is an alleged Zuma ally and Gupta acolyte.
Mantsha revealed that although Zuma and his legal team were disgruntled by the commission’s decision not to provide them with questions before hand, the former president would still be appearing before the commission on the set dates in July.
“Our client will attend the commission’s proceedings on the dates the commission has determined. Our client stands by all the concerns he has previously raised with the commission,” said Mantsha.