Judge Raymond Zondo, the chairperson of the State Capture Commission of Inquiry, delivered a three-part, one-hour long judicial smackdown to former President Jacob Zuma’s bid to force the judge to recuse himself.
Wearing a surgical mask, Zuma who looked drawn and tense before the Commission this week, listened intently as the judge delivered his decision. Zondo had delayed his judgment three times and finally made it on Thursday, November 19.
“The application for my recusal is accordingly dismissed,” he said as he demolished Zuma’s three-part demand for recusal.
On a personal relationship
Part 1 was that he and the judge are friends and that Zondo was thus conflicted in his entire role as Commission chairperson. “There was no sound reason why Zuma only raised a personal relationship close to three years after (he was appointed Commission of Inquiry chairperson),” said Zondo. “If the applicant felt that way, he should have raised the matter with the chief justice (at the time of the appointment). “ Zuma had argued he had not done so for fear of being seen to interfere in the choice of the chairperson.
“The view of interference is not sound,” said Zondo, adding that “If the chief justice had given him (Zuma, who was then president), the name of a judge who faced corruption charges, would he (Zuma) have kept quiet?”
On having an axe to grind
Part 2 related to Zuma’s view that the witnesses before the Commission had been “persons with an axe to grind”. The Commission has heard 257 witnesses and 35 of those had implicated Zuma. “There is no merit in this point,” said Zondo, adding that “the Commission was free to use any witnesses so long as in the end, the applicant (Zuma) was free to come before the Commission and deal with the evidence”. Zondo said that Zuma had several opportunities to come forward to give his version of events to the Commission but he had failed to do so.
Part 3 dealt with Zuma’s view that the judge had made comments which exhibited bias on his (Zondo’s) part. “I am satisfied that the applicant’s contention has no merits. I am entitled to and obliged to seek comments and ask questions as the Commission must seek the truth on (the) matters it is investigating. The applicant appears to expect me to be very passive when witnesses appear,” said Zondo.
Zuma’s counsel, advocate Muzi Sikhakhane said that they would take the decision on review and also report Zondo to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) because “you will realise (maybe I didn’t say it enough) that you have become a judge in a matter that involves yourself”.
The judge made it clear that the commission would proceed after a tea break. However, Zuma left the commission during the break without his counsel notifying the chairperson.
Commission proceedings have been adjourned for two days. DM
12.25pm: This article was updated with the latest developments.