The chairperson of the State Capture inquiry, Judge Raymond Zondo, has instructed the commission’s secretary, Professor Itumeleng Mosala, to lay a criminal charge against former president Jacob Zuma for absconding from the hearing to which he had been summoned on Thursday last week.
His actions were an offence in terms of the Commissions Act of 1947 which criminalises the actions of a person who is summoned to appear and give evidence and who leaves before being excused.
Also, Zondo will also issue a summons for Zuma to appear again to answer the 35 witness testimonies which implicated him, and he will seek an urgent order from the Constitutional Court to compel the former head of state to appear.
Zuma and his legal team exited the Commission without permission on November 19 and claimed to have asked to be excused. But Zondo disabused this defence. “The summons to attend and remain in attendance was at the time of his departure still valid and binding and had not been set aside.”
A smarting Judge Zondo said: “Mr Zuma’s (conduct) must be dealt with in a manner in which our law provides it must be dealt with. This Commission is clear about what should happen – it remains determined to carry out its function.
“Given the seriousness of Mr Zuma’s conduct and the impact it may have on the work of the Commission and the need to ensure we give effect to the Constitutional provisions that all are equal before the law, I have decided to instruct the secretary to lay a criminal complaint with the South African Police Service so the police can investigate his conduct. The secretary (of the Commission) will make available to the police all relevant (information).”
The judge said the information on the illegality of Zuma’s absconding would also be made available to the National Prosecuting Authority.
Zondo said that the secretary would issue a second summons to Zuma to appear before it – the first had brought him to the Commission for an appearance from November 16 to November 20.
And, the Commission will make an urgent application before the Constitutional Court to “compel Mr Zuma to appear and comply with the summons and when he attends in compliance with the summons (to) not leave without my permission. The court order to compel Zuma to attend will also seek to ensure that the former president is compelled to comply with Commission regulation that he provides it with affidavits setting out his version of the testimony to respond to the 35 witnesses who have implicated him in various instances of the state capture the Commission is investigating.
“This Commission is quite clear and those steps will be taken as a matter of urgency,” said Zondo.
“His (Zuma’s) conduct may send a message to all other witnesses who may not be comfortable to come and answer questions that it is the right thing to do for a witness summoned to excuse himself, (for) witnesses to come and go as they please before the Commission.”
If that were to happen, said Zondo, the Commission would fall apart.
“The decision by Mr Zuma to leave the Commission without permission is a serious matter – it impacts on the integrity of the Commission, the rule of law and public accountability. The matters this Commission is investigating and by which it seeks to question him happened when he was President of the Republic.
“The rule of law and (of) public accountability are values fundamental to our constitutional order and our Constitution promises that all are equal before the law. This is a principle of our Constitution (and of) a society built upon the rule of law,” said Zondo.
Until now, Zondo has bent over backwards to accommodate Zuma’s delays and the Commission has negotiated with the former President’s legal teams to postpone a summons planned for issue in January 2020.
The commission has, on at least 26 occasions since August 2018, invited Zuma, in writing, to provide his version of events and written to him at least 16 times to find time slots suitable for him to present testimony. He has been excused when he had to attend a separate corruption case, when he was ill, and last week (November 17) , he was excused to attend a funeral on one day of testimony. DM