JOHANNESBURG: An infuriated leader of the panel said he would seek a high-court order to imprison Mr. Zuma for contempt.
South Africa’s former leader, Mr. Jacob Zuma, who once led Mr. Nelson Mandela party, the African National Congress (ANC) for two consecutive terms is facing a possible jail term.
Mr. Zuma, who in his previous statement said he does not fear being arrested, acting in defiance against the country’s top court Order and failed to show up at the so-called ‘state capture’ inquiry on Monday.
The court had ordered him to obliged with the summons issued by the inquiry’s officials and told not to remain silent during the fact-finding proceedings.
The inquiry which is being chaired by one of the country’s top judge, Mr. Raymond Zondo is attempting to unravel corruption allegations which took place in the past decade. At the inquiry, Mr. Zuma has been implicated by a dozen witnesses alleging that he had given his friends lucrative contracts in the ailing state-owned companies and government departments.
His friends, Mr. Ajay Gupta, Mr. Atul Gupta and Mr. Rajesh Gupta fled the most industrialized country to their native home country, India, after Mr. Zuma was removed from power by the current leader of the party and country, Mr. Cyril Ramaphosa’s supporters on 14th February 2018.
Mr. Ramaphosa, has promised to purge the governing ANC of endemic problems of bribery and graft that have severely damaged its credibility in South Africa, one of the continent’s most important economic powerhouses and industrialized country.
The former leader sent a letter through his lawyers, arguing that he was not legally bound to appear.
“The summons issued for our client to appear on Feb 15-19 2021 is irregular,” Mr. Zuma’s lawyers said.
It was Mr. Zuma who instituted the inquiry in 2018 after a damning report detailing the extent of corruption in state-owned companies and government departments during his administration. In its far-reaching mandate, the commission has interrogated more than 250 witnesses so far.
On Monday, the infuriated leader of the panel said he would seek a high-court order to imprison Mr. Zuma for contempt.
“The commission will make an application to the Constitutional Court and seek an order that [Mr.] Zuma is guilty of contempt of court, and if the Constitutional Court reaches that conclusion then it is in its discretion what to do,” said Mr. Zondo.
Mr. Zuma is the first witness to refuse to appear before the panel. In November 2020, Mr Zuma and his legal team demanded that Mr Zondo recuse himself from the proceeding before walking out without the panel’s leader permission.
Mr. Zuma has accused the justice of harbouring a personal vendetta against him and has pointed to distant family relation and that the panel’s leader often visits him at his Johannesburg-based home, Mr Zondo rejected these claims.
“I’ve just completed 24 years of service on the bench as a judge and many litigants have come and gone and have appeared before me, literally thousands in trials, motion court and appeals and only Mr. Zuma, out of all of these, has asked me to recuse myself,” Mr. Zondo said.
It was not yet clear if the top court would decide on Mr. Zondo’s favour to be harsher to Mr. Zuma and impose imprisonment sentence or fine – as being another option suggested.
Mr. Zuma, who has denied any wrongdoing, retains considerable support within the country. Most notably from his former party’s elder generation group, Umkhonto We Sizwe Military Veterans’ Association (often referred to as MKMVA) and Radical Economic Transformation forces who had – on Monday – camped outside his rural home in Nkandla in the north side of the province of KwaZulu Natal.
The veterans told the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) that they would remain until the end of the week to prevent the police from taking Mr. Zuma into custody. They were joined by supporters of Mr. Zuma, who sang and chanted their fealty to him.
More concerning are his supporters within the party that would see these actions as a sign to punish the former leader, may want to defend him and risk a civil protest throughout the country. Despite Mr. Zuma’s erratic behaviour, there are growing calls within the country to remove Mr. Ramaphosa from his position at the party’s National General Council (NGC) over his handling of the country issues.
Mr. Zuma’s actions could reignite those growing calls and help those who want Mr. Ramaphosa to resign and divide the party further.
Mr. Ramaphosa, formerly Mr. Zuma’s deputy, won the ANC leadership in 2017 after a bruising internal battle. Soon afterwards, he forced Mr. Zuma to step down as president, a humiliating defeat that Mr. Zuma has not forgiven. The leader, Mr. Ramaphosa, has been accused of being used by private businessmen to wedge their personal vendetta against Mr. Zuma.
Mr. Zuma’s stance has threatened to polarize not just factions within the ANC but the country, some members of the party said.
“If he gets arrested, it’s perfectly clear that society will be divided into two groups,” said Mr. Mdumiseni Ntuli, the party’s secretary in KwaZulu-Natal. Mr. Ntuli and other members of the provincial leadership met with Mr. Zuma over the past week to try to convince him to adhere to the law, Mr. Ntuli told the SABC.
“The implications to the unity and the cohesion of the A.N.C. are going to be very profound,” Mr. Ntuli said of the possible arrest.
A top leader of the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal Mr. Sihle Zikalala believes the purpose of country’s most radical opposition party, Mr Julius Malema’s recent visit to Mr. Zuma’s home was to inflame tensions within the party.
Mr. Malema, who played an instrumental role in the removal of Mr. Zuma from the office asked to meet the former leader at his home in Nkandla, (492,8 km) away from Johannesburg.
Mr Zikalala believes that Mr Malema’s party, Economic Freedom Fighters, remains a great threat to the ANC.
“They remain a great threat to the ANC and they are focusing on you both particularly with a dedicated focus to the unemployed and students. They are then focusing as well disillusional members of the ANC,” Mr Zikalala after the opening session of a two-day provincial ANC Lekgotla in Durban.
“We must ensure that we engage with [the] former president to understand the organisation and leaders for the organisation must at all material times embrace the laws of our country and equally to ensure that they subject themselves the laws and prescripts of the country,” Zikalala added.
Should the Constitutional Court find Mr. Zuma’s behaviour does not warrant punishment, it may encourage other witnesses to defy the corruption inquiry and undermine its purpose.