Walking out on the judicial commission of inquiry, led by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, may result in a jail term for former South African president Jacob Zuma. This adds to Zuma’s nightmares since he is already facing 16 charges, including fraud, racketeering, corruption, and money laundering.
Consequences of Zuma’s action
Speaking to the AFP, Cathleen Powell, South Africa’s University of Capetown’s associate professor in public law, outlined the consequences of the ex-president’s actions.
“By walking out without permission, by refusing to answer questions, by not pitching when he was summonsed, Zuma and in fact his legal team have committed criminal acts. Now for these, he could be arrested, he could be tried. The sentences, the possible sentences are fairly low, six-month imprisonment or a fine,” Cathleen said.
“The other option is that Zondo exercises the power he would have as a judge in the high court. Which is the power to imprison somebody in order to force them to give evidence. So the coercive powers of judges in the high court to issue a subpoena, which means under penalty?”
Why did he walk out?
Jacob Zuma wanted Raymond Zondo to recuse himself from the inquiry commission since they had a relationship. Zondo however denied having a relationship or friendship with Zuma that would make him recuse himself from the commission. Consequently, he dismissed the application for his recusal.
“I conclude that the applicant has failed to meet the test for a reasonable apprehension of bias. Accordingly, I conclude that the application for my recusal falls to be dismissed. And it is accordingly dismissed, “read Zondo in a ruling he made on Thursday 19 November 2020.
The dismissal caused Zuma and his lawyer to “excuse” themselves from the proceedings to “consider Zondo’s ruling” during the tea break.
Muzi Sikhakhane, Zuma’s lawyer, told Zondo that he would be biased against Zuma since Zondo was a witness and a judge in a dispute that involved him (Zondo).
Zondo expressed his disappointment saying that it is a “pity” that Zuma chose to leave, but did not put out clearly Zuma’s fate.
“He has left today without asking me to be excused. This is a serious matter but in terms of the plan of the commission for this week, he was going to be, if I dismissed his application that I should recuse myself- as I have done-, asked to take the witness stand and be questioned on various matters relating to matters that we are investigating as a commission. It is a pity that he has elected to leave without asking for permission,” Zondo said.
Jacob Zuma Foundation Lauds the move
In a statement they released, Jacob Zuma Foundation lauded him for not accepting to be “bullied” by the commission.
“We commend Zuma for risking it all in order not to legitimize an irregular process disguised as a legitimate commission,” said the foundation.
They went on further to add, “We know that Zuma and his team took this brave stance because they were not prepared to be bullied and elected to terminate their participation regardless of the risk of contempt proceedings.”
In his closing remarks, Zondo failed to state when next Zuma will appear before the commission again saying that he is not “coming back”.
“There is no point in coming tomorrow because he is not coming back. So we are going to adjourn and the commission will reflect on the matters that it needs to reflect on. But, It is going to continue with its work,” he remarked.