Former president Jacob Zuma’s legal team has announced that its client will no longer be “willingly participating” before the Zondo commission into state capture until its legal team could assure Zuma’s lawyers that it would address his concerns. Only then would he commit to appear before the commission.
The announcement was made on Friday by the former president’s legal head, advocate Muzi Sikhakhane, following the abrupt adjournment in proceedings on Wednesday.
“My client has instructed me that he will take no further part in this commission,” said Sikhakhane, adding that Zuma was considering approaching the courts to make a case against the commission’s treatment of him.
Sikhakhane submitted arguments on what led to this decision by Zuma. He said Zuma decided to accept the commission’s invitation “out of respect for the citizens of this country but was, on appearing, subject to relentless cross examination”.
He argued that it appeared Zuma had been “lured before the commission” under “false pretence”.
Sikhakhane said the commission’s legal team had not indicated – in the invitation for Zuma to appear – what rules it would use when questioning him.
He said “a crisis has been created” because it was not clear what rules of evidence the commission’s legal team was following.
Sikhakhane said the commission’s legal team was not specific on any rules. He said: “We were anticipating an impasse like this.”
Sikhakhane indicated that his client had been aggrieved by the opposing legal team’s “inconsistencies”. A list on nine witnesses cited Zuma’s alleged involvement. Yet the commission had earlier indicated “only eight witnesses” who had directly implicated him.
“My client was waiting to be treated just like Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan or former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene, yet it appears that he has not been afforded the right of being presumed innocent until proven guilty,” said Sikhakhane.
Advocate Paul Pretorius challenged Sikhakhane’s stance, saying: “As the commission’s legal team we cannot enter into any arrangement to favour a witness which is what is being asked [by Zuma’s legal team].”
It was “incumbent upon the commission to ask questions in its terms of reference and I assert the questions put to Zuma fall within them”, said Pretorius.
He said whether invited or subpoenaed, the legal team was duty bound by the rules and the would follow the rules.
Pretorius said the commission was “not seeking to prove any case, but [was] investigating in an inquisitorial manner”.
He maintained that the commission was obliged to investigate: “Questions must, therefore, be asked to seek to establish the truth and assist the chairperson.”
Deputy Chief Justice Ray Zondo, the commission’s chairperson, expressed displeasure in the manner in which the two legal teams had discussed the matter on Thursday, a day that had been set aside for the two parties to engage and seek to find a way forward.
“I am disappointed that I was made to go to bed on Thursday without knowing what the decision between the two legal teams had come to agree on.
“I would have thought I would be informed on how the discussions were progressing and if there was an impasse, I would have tried to intervene and meet both legal teams to try to find common ground,” said Zondo.
He said he still intended “nevertheless to have a session with the counsel for the commission and Zuma to see whether we can’t find each other and reach an amicable decision that can address the concerns of the former president without compromising the obligations of the commission’s legal team”.
Proceedings came to an abrupt adjournment on Wednesday when the former president and his legal team expressed “concerns” about the manner in which the commission’s legal team, through Pretorius was questioning him.
Zuma’s legal team argued that the line of questioning was tantamount to cross examination.
It went as far as alleging that the commission’s legal team had “lured him” to appear before it “under false pretense”.
Zuma’s legal team maintained its stance that it would rather approach the courts to “fight for our client’s rights” instead of further engaging with the commission.
Proceedings were adjourned until Friday to give both teams time discuss the matter.