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Zondo commission has given up efforts to coerce Zuma

Siviwe Feketha Political reporter
Former President Jacob Zuma
Former President Jacob Zuma
Image: Alon Skuy/Sunday Times

The Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture has given up all efforts to coerce former president Jacob Zuma to appear before it and testify on corruption allegations against him.

This was revealed by the commission on Thursday as it asked the Constitutional Court to slap him with direct imprisonment of three years for contempt of court.

Since last year, Zuma has repeatedly defied summonses issued by the commission compelling him to file affidavits and take the stand to answer on his role in state capture allegations relating to his tenure as the head of state.

Adv Tembeka Ngcukaitobi SC, for the commission, told the apex court yesterday that the inquiry was no longer seeking any measures to compel Zuma to take the stand but for him to be jailed as punishment for his defiant behaviour.

“We do not ask for his appearance. We ask for his punishment,” he said.

In January, the apex court ruled that it was illegal for Zuma to refuse to appear before the commission and that his continued defiance was a direct breach of the rule of law, after the commission approached to ask for an order to secure his attendance.

Zuma, backed by his supporters, has however slammed the court and instead accused it of singling him out and violating his rights and further accused judges of politicising laws.

Ngcukaitobi accused Zuma of exploiting “his status in society” as a former head of state to embark on a malicious and brazen attack on the judiciary and the rule of law in a bid to evade scrutiny. “We are dealing with cynical maneuver to avoid accountability. Zuma has engineered a situation quite deliberately to escape accountability,” he said.

Justice Zukiswa Tshiqi expressed worry that the inquiry had now admittedly abandoned any hope of securing Zuma’s appearance, despite this being the main basis of the commission’s approach to court for intervention.

“To simply impose a custodial sentence, would that be not counterproductive in the sense that there would really be no point in the whole thing?" Tshiqi asked.

Ngcukaitobi, however, pointed out that the commission's term of office was nearing the end and that it was clear that Zuma would avoid any effort to coerce him to the stand.

He said the request for his imprisonment was for contemptuous behaviour to the highest court in the land, the assault and political campaign he had waged against the judiciary and the attack on judges using falsehoods.

“The spectacle we fear is the spectacle of Zuma continuing to run rings around the commission because he might be brought, not speak and the entire thing degenerates into a circus. This is why a clean effective remedy that truly vindicated the authority of the court is custodial sentence,” he said.

Ngcukaitobi admitted that the commission would be impoverished by not securing the answers it wanted from Zuma. But he said  this was beyond its control, adding that suspending the sentence on condition that he appears would further play into his adopted “exploitative attitude”.

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