South Africa

Days of Zondo

Recusal judgment delayed as Jacob Zuma tables new details of ‘friendship’ with judge Zondo

Former president Jacob Zuma, left, and Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo. (Illustrative image sources: 2019 Tiso Blackstar Group / Thulani Mbele | Financial Mail / Freddy Mavunda)

‘In fact, we met even after you were appointed to chair the State Capture Commission.’ This is what former president Jacob Zuma has told State capture inquiry judge Raymond Zondo, in an affidavit. The ruling on the judge’s recusal was postponed on Wednesday after Zuma submitted the affidavit disputing the judge’s testimony and insisting the two were friends. The ruling will now take place on Thursday morning.

Former President Jacob Zuma has disputed that he and the State Capture Commission of Inquiry chairperson Judge Raymond Zondo are acquaintances and not friends. In fact, he says in his affidavit; he saw the judge after he was appointed to chair the inquiry in 2018.

Zondo said on Monday November 16 that he had not been to Zuma’s presidential office nor did he go to his official residence for a one-on-one meeting while he was president. 

In a new affidavit sent to Zondo on Tuesday, 17 November, Zuma states: 

“The improbability of this assertion by the Chairperson is obvious. I assume that the period of my Presidency to which he refers includes the very period during which the Chief Justice selected him as the Judge who would preside over the Commission…soon after the Chairperson had been selected by the Chief Justice, I held a briefing meeting with him at the official residence in Durban”. 

This has made Zondo delay for the third time his judgment on whether or not he will recuse himself as chairperson as Zuma has applied for. 

While Zondo tried this week to put distance between himself and Zuma by saying they did not attend each other’s birthdays or family funerals, Zuma said “I dispute that we were never friends … In fact, in our discussion at my residence in Forest Town (to which I have referred), we discussed, among other things, how our friendship, if not managed properly, could jeopardise his judicial ambitions or rise within the ranks of the judiciary.”

This discussion took place after Zondo had been appointed to the bench, said Zuma who also said that the judge had been coy about this detail as it reveals they are closer than mere acquaintances. 

“While the Chairperson is at pains to suggest that I was neither his friend nor a person of influence and/or in government, he however had to come to me to discuss a matter he considered to be of public importance. 

“The Chairperson fails to state why he would discuss a matter of public importance with a person who was neither his friend nor a person in government or person of influence.”

Zondo did not detail what his discussions with Zuma were about when they met and suggested that these were bump-into-each-other meetings at the annual opening of parliament or other social occasions. But Zuma’s affidavit says the judge, and he had several tête-á-têtes at his Forest Town, Johannesburg home, both while he was in office and when he was dismissed as deputy president and out of office between 2005 and 2007.

“I dispute the Chairperson’s assertions that the Forest Town meeting happened only during the time when I was no longer in government. My meeting(s) with him in Forest Town was during my tenure as the Deputy President…in fact, we met several times in my residence at Forest Town. It was our meeting place.” 

Zuma also objected to Zondo’s statement that the former President did not have influence over his judicial career because he was “only” a provincial MEC when the judge was appointed to the bench. In fact, he said, then-president Nelson Mandela had consulted the ANC on a wide range of issues and Zuma was an ANC national chairperson at the time and also the provincial chairperson of the ANC KwaZulu-Natal. 

“Although the Chairperson seeks to diminish my role at the time, I was part of serious discussions in the country. One of the critical challenges at the time was that while there was a need to transform the judiciary, there was a shortage of black legal practitioners who could ascend to the bench.

“Accordingly, his attempt to communicate that I was insignificant in the national political arena is untrue.”  

Zondo was appointed as a judge of the Labour Court in 1997 and was appointed deputy chief justice in 2017 by Zuma acting on the recommendation of the Judicial Service Commission. 

“The Chairperson (Zondo) is being less than candid in his recollection of facts in the Statement (he read on Monday, 16 November),” said Zuma. 

The former head of the state is likely to use the dispute about the degree of his friendship with Zondo (or not) and the degree to which he did (or did not) influence the judge’s judicial degree to bolster his case for recusal. If Zondo refuses to recuse himself, it is likely that Zuma’s legal team will decide on a high court review as he has argued that the judge cannot preside over a factual dispute about his own statement.

The twice-postponed ruling is set to take place on Thursday morning. DM

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All Comments 16

  • Even if Zuma testifies, it will mean zero, f-all. He will never admit to anything. Why the commission even bothers is a mystery to me. Frankly, its time that the NPA starts to do their job. The Zondo’s commission job is done, save for the report. But the report is of no consequence, as we all know what the report will say. Ramaphosa, NPA, the future of this country is now in your hands, not Zondo.

  • Zuma is razor sharp. If Zondo has lied & is forced to recuse himself, he has a waste of >R700M to answer for personally. That should put an instant end to his career & title. The betrayal would be beyond belief.

    • Of course I don’t want to believe that Zondo was economical with the truth in his statement. The claimed friendship is more than unlikely, but the claimed additional interactions at Forest Town are up in the air. Sikhakhane himself would have never taken on this brief if he had any integrity & I’m aware of his history.

  • If they were in fact friends it should then be in Zuma’s favor to have Zondo onboard! So what is Zuma squabbling about! He will lose the court case as well as his last friend.

  • One thing the Zuma era has bequeathed SA is case law and judgements – refining and defining our constitution and laws – and how to deal with a rogue executive.
    Losing a battle is not winning the war. At the moment it’s 50/50.

  • wait for Zupta to unleash his bottom drawer files on old heavyweights. If anybody thinks Trump will throw tantrums – just wait. Hopefully Zondo has a mute button for Zupta’s off-topic replies. He won’t go down pleading the “in case I incriminate myself” line. He knows that in the few miserable years he has left he will not see a prison so he will bring down the house. The NEC knows this too so likely the demolition delayed is likely

  • If J Gedleyihlakisa Zuma was a friend of Zondo’s, then he would surely do what all people do with their
    friends – trust them! Hmmmph, ’tis a problem when J Gedleyihlakisa Z cannot trust himself; he walked out of this commission before!

  • The fact that Zonda is a judge this is not a court of law but a commission of enquiry chaired by him. The commission’s job as I understand it is to follow all leads in an attempt to get to the truth and to then to issue a report.
    This report may or may not thereafter lead to one or more prosecutions in a court of law where the commission’s findings may now be used in leading evidence by either party which can then be tested and ruled on by the presiding judge(s).

  • And excellent discussion point, especially when Zuma stated I quote “…“I dispute that we were never friends … In fact, in our discussion at my residence in Forest Town (to which I have referred), we discussed, among other things, how our friendship, if not managed properly, could jeopardise his judicial ambitions or rise within the ranks of the judiciary.”…” That by submission, Zuma indicates a paternalistic approach to career planning and succession within the Judiciary, not only that; Zuma actually threatened him that his career path is dependent on Zuma’s friendship and is what I believe is “coercion” or the manipulation of the judiciary by the state.