South Africa

DAYS OF ZONDO

State Capture commission granted seventh extension as Chief Justice defends delays

Chief Justice Raymond Zondo.(Photo: Gallo Images / Sunday Times / Alon Skuy)

The High Court in Pretoria has permitted a six-week extension to complete the final report of the Zondo Commission, which must now be delivered in mid-June. This is the seventh extension so far – but in a live interview on SABC on Thursday night, Chief Justice Raymond Zondo insisted that the commission is at the ‘tail end’ of its work.

Confusion has surrounded the timing of the release of the final reports of the Zondo Commission, with two batches – Part 4 and Part 5 – still awaited to conclude the work of a State Capture inquiry originally envisaged to take six months to complete when it was established in 2018.

Four years later, commission chair (and new Chief Justice) Raymond Zondo secured the seventh extension for the commission’s lifespan on Thursday. The successful court application, which was unopposed, now means that the final State Capture report is due by June 15 at the latest.

The penultimate Part 4 report, however, which was originally expected at the beginning of April, is now due to be published Friday (29 April) morning, following its official handover to the Presidency. The report is divided into eight sections, including Eskom, National Treasury and the Free State asbestos scam.

In his application to the High Court in Pretoria for the extension, Zondo stated that the final Part 5 report will cover topics including the Gupta landing at the Waterkloof Air Force Base in 2013, the capture of the State Security Agency, the SABC and rail parastatal Prasa. In addition, it will include a general summary of all five parts of the total State Capture report.

Speaking to the SABC’s Mzwandile Mbeje in a live interview on Thursday night, Zondo conceded that it might have been preferable to seek longer extensions earlier rather than continuously returning to court for – in Mbeje’s words – “small nyama” extensions.

“My assessment [of how long the work would take] has not been as good as it should have been,” Zondo admitted.

He said that the commission’s staff had been working “right around the clock” and on weekends to complete the final reports, but insisted that no corners could be cut on dealing thoroughly with the evidence involved.

“The findings we make affect people; affect people’s reputations,” said Zondo, explaining that it was imperative that the public understand how the commission’s findings were reached in the context of the evidence.

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The latest extension will have a knock-on effect: President Cyril Ramaphosa is due to review the findings and report back to Parliament on the implementation of the report’s recommendations. With the new deadline, this is likely to only take place towards the end of August.

Zondo reiterated to the SABC a sentiment that he has expressed before: that nobody is keener to see the commission wrap up than he is.

“It’s been four gruelling years,” Zondo said, but expressed confidence that “we are at the tail end of it now”.

The fullness of Zondo’s plate currently was made clear by the wide-ranging interview, in which he also fielded questions relating to his 28-day-old role as South Africa’s newest Chief Justice.

His appearance on live TV came in the aftermath of the latest controversy affecting the country’s judiciary, which involves the attempts of embattled Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane to keep her job.

Mkhwebane has applied to the Constitutional Court to have a previous judgment – which found that Parliament’s inquiry into her fitness to hold office was lawful – rescinded. This “rescission application” has not yet been ruled on. But in a bizarre turn of events, a legal analyst called Ismail Abramjee sent lawyers representing Parliament a text message late last week in which he claimed to have advance knowledge of the application’s outcome.

As reported by City Press, Abramjee’s text read: “I have it on good authority that the [Constitutional] Court has declined to hear the Public Protector’s rescission application. The decision will be made known some time this coming week, but not later than Friday. I thought I’d just share this with you on a strictly confidential basis.” 

After the text was made public, Abramjee – brother of the activist Yusuf Abramjee – claimed that his message was based on nothing more than his own interpretation of the most likely outcome. But the incident has fuelled allegations of “judicial capture”: the narrative that some South African judges are making rulings primarily to favour the administration of Ramaphosa, which Mkhwebane herself has implied is the case.

Zondo said on Thursday that he had ordered an investigation into the matter.

“It is completely unacceptable for anybody to say to anybody [that] a court has made any decision that the court has not announced,” the Chief Justice said.

As he has in the past, however, Zondo condemned accusations of judicial bias made without accompanying evidence.

“People make these accusations in order to make judges doubt themselves,” he suggested.

In a situation where a judge has previously ruled in favour of a particular party, Zondo said he feared that the atmosphere of public mistrust might lead that judge to worry: “If I find in favour of this party now [again], this perception that I am biased will be strengthened.”

Such concerns should never affect judicial reasoning, Zondo said.

Although the Chief Justice appeared characteristically composed and genial during the interview, it ended on a sombre note when Zondo was asked whether he was worried about political attacks against the judiciary.

“I’m very concerned,” Zondo said.

“When I look at the future, I think it is very likely that the judiciary will be attacked more and more.” DM

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