Days of Zondo

Newsflash: Full commission report may not be made public, says judge

By Rebecca Davis 23 January 2020
Caption
Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo. (Illustrative image | source: Felix Dlangamandla / Netwerk24)

Addressing the media on Thursday about the State Capture commission’s request for a time extension on its work, Judge Raymond Zondo confirmed that the release of the commission’s report is the prerogative of President Cyril Ramaphosa. As such, he acknowledged the possibility that portions of the report may be redacted.

Because the Zondo Commission into State Capture was established at the behest of the president, it is President Cyril Ramaphosa’s decision to make whether or not the commission’s full report is released to the public.

“It is my understanding that [Ramaphosa] has said in the past he would release it,” Judge Raymond Zondo told journalists on Thursday.

But he warned that it was possible that the report might not be made public in full.

“It might be a matter of certain portions not being released,” the judge acknowledged.

Judge Zondo was facing the media with regards to the State Capture inquiry’s request to the high court in December 2019 for an extension of the commission’s lifespan. As things stand, the Zondo commission is supposed to have wrapped up its work by February 2020 – but Zondo has made it clear that this deadline is impossible to meet.

The judge said that certain domains of State Capture have already been considered in some detail by the commission, but many others remain.

“We already had a lot of witnesses relating to Eskom, relating to Transnet, relating to Denel. But there are areas which we must still look into.”

He said it was the commission’s intention to conclude with witnesses and begin the writing of the report before the end of the year – but “a few more months” after that might still be necessary.

By the end of 2019, the Zondo Commission had heard evidence from more than 150 witnesses over around 190 days of sitting. The transcript of witness testimony already runs to more than 20 000 pages, while the collection of exhibits exceeds 450 000 pages.

Yet Judge Zondo fears that there is much more wrongdoing yet to be uncovered.

“Corruption is very deep in our society,” he said. “What the Zondo Commission has seen is just the tip of the iceberg.”

Zondo declined to give an updated figure on the amount of money spent on the commission thus far, saying that the figures still needed to be checked. As of August 2019, the costs had already surpassed R350-million.

While the bill mounts, concern from the public as to the ultimate purpose of the commission has grown – particularly with the apparent lack of action from law enforcement agencies in response to the inquiry’s revelations thus far. Judge Zondo takes a different view.

“I don’t know whether it would be appropriate to conclude that since the commission started, the law enforcement agencies are slow to act,” he said, adding that the heads of those bodies were up against “certain challenges” internally.

Zondo suggested that in certain cases, officials may be waiting for the “full witnesses” relating to a particular issue to give evidence in front of the commission before acting against implicated parties. He stressed that State Capture prosecutions needed to be watertight.

“Law enforcement agencies may worry if they rush to court, they will have a problem when the public says: But people are just getting acquitted; there are no convictions,” he said.

The deputy chief justice was also questioned on another central concern surrounding the commission: that its work will be weakened if the characters at the heart of State Capture – the Gupta brothers – fail to appear before it.

Judge Zondo said that the responsibility for the extradition of the Guptas to face questioning fell to the Department of Justice, which he was informed is “continuing with those efforts”.

But he urged the public not to see the commission’s impact as contingent on whether or not the Guptas cooperate with the process.

“People mustn’t think that just because the Guptas might not give evidence, it will mean that the commission did not get a good picture of what happened,” he said.

The judge pointed out that the Guptas initially supplied the commission with an affidavit which contained blanket denials – and not much else.

“It may well be that even if they came, they wouldn’t give certain information,” Zondo said.

In reference to the commission’s other missing witness – former President Jacob Zuma – Judge Zondo declined to give an opinion on whether Zuma’s claims of being too medically incapacitated to appear before the inquiry again were valid. The matter is still being tussled over by lawyers.

But Zondo was equally sanguine on the possibility that the former president might never appear before the commission again.

“I believe it would be important that the commission gets an opportunity to hear what [Zuma] knows. But if ultimately he doesn’t appear, the commission would wrap up its work on the basis of all the evidence it would have heard from everyone else, and make its findings.”

For now, Judge Zondo is focused on the all-important application to extend the timeframe of the commission’s work – to be heard by the high court on 11 February. No opposition to the application has yet been received.

“If we are not granted an extension, I don’t think we will be able to make any findings,” said Zondo.

“It would be a disaster.” DM

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