Home South African Justice Zondo denies bias, but Zuma alleges he created persecutory environment

Justice Zondo denies bias, but Zuma alleges he created persecutory environment

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Commission of inquiry into state capture hears legal application from former president Jacob Zuma asking for Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo’s recusal.

Former president Jacob Zuma at the state capture commission during a hearing on his application for commission chairperson Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo to recuse himself. Picture: Itumeleng English / African News Agency (ANA)

DEPUTY Chief Justice Raymond Zondo on Monday testified that he had never been friends with Jacob Zuma, as the commission of inquiry into state capture heard a legal application from the former president for his recusal.

Zondo did, however, enumerate the times over the past two and a half decades that the pair’s paths had crossed.

Zondo said he paid his respects when one of Zuma’s wives died “18 or 20 years ago”, but Zuma had never attended any of his family funerals or more mundane events such as birthday celebrations

At times looking pained, he added that in 1996, a year before he became a judge, he had met with Zuma because he was representing a client as a lawyer who wanted to bring an application against him.

However, Zondo said, he never brought the application because he was then appointed to the bench. He added that as a judge, Zuma had never previously sought his recusal from the bench in any of the matters embroiling the former head of state.

Zuma has moved for Zondo’s recusal as head of the eponymous commission probing a web of rent-seeking scandals that mostly played out during his presidency. This came after Zondo, exasperated with Zuma’s refusal to testify before the commission, summonsed him to do so.

Following Zondo’s opening statement on Monday morning, Zuma’s lawyer, advocate Muzi Sikhakhane, said he was not accusing Zondo of being partial or lacking integrity.

Instead, he said he needed to criticise the deputy judge president for, through his comments in commission sittings at times, contributing to a perception that has gained public traction that Zuma is the politician responsible for the corruption and disarray besetting South Africa.

The former president, who was present at the hearing, was reasonably justified to be “fearful” of appearing in a forum that had reinforced perception that he belonged in prison, Sikhakhane continued.

“You may have created an environment that enforces in his mind reasonably so that this forum is an extension of the narrative about him that everything that went wrong in South Africa is attributable to him,” he said.

Zondo called for a tea break before Sikhakhane was about to list the remarks that he would argue furthered this fear and perception.

He had earlier said that it was expected of presiding officers to remain impassive even when listening to harrowing testimony about the rape of a toddler.

Sikhakhane said the fact that two courts had barred Zuma from fulfilling his normal presidential duty, as set out in the Constitution, of appointing the head of a commission of inquiry in the case of the Zondo one probing state capture, had already created the grounds for the former president’s fears.

After tea, the advocate went further and said the selection of witnesses who had been called by the commission and the questions posed to them by Zondo appeared designed to arrive at a particular conclusion that paint Zuma as guilty.

He singled out a question Zondo had put to former public enterprises minister Barbara Hogan about executive interference at Eskom.

Zondo interjected to say that he had posed the question to establish whether the impression Hogan’s statement created was indeed what she was inferring.

But Sikhakhane insisted that the remark suggested a particular mindset.

“It is a mind that is inclined to agree with a particular witness about another who is not there.

“I’m asking you to do something very difficult – it is difficult for me, it is difficult for you – in the heat of things and in the outrage you feel because you are a human, is not because you are a bad person, but there is a line you cross.”

The judge countered that Sikhakhane should consider that perhaps he had merely indicated a provisional acceptance of the testimony of a particular witness “until I hear the other side”.

But Sikhakhane said the answer only offered succour on an abstract, intellectual level, not to a witness sitting before him.

“Here is where I part ways with your answer … it is no comfort from a judge.”

He said the former president had reason to fear that in coming to testify before the commission he was coming to “a slaughterhouse”.

He said Zuma had never intended to defy the commission and refuse to appear, casting this as another false perception about him.

Zondo issued the summons on October 9. Shortly after he responded to a claim from Zuma that they had a personal relationship by disclosing that in the 1990s he had a child with the sister of one of Zuma’s wives, but said this did not disqualify him from presiding over his testimony.

– African News Agency (ANA)