Johannesburg: The head of a South African judicial inquiry into state corruption said he would apply for former president Jacob Zuma to be held in contempt of court for ignoring a summons to testify, and for him to be jailed if he’s found guilty.
Ignoring a summons “is very serious because if it is allowed to prevail, there will be lawlessness and chaos in the courts,” Deputy Chief Judge Raymond Zondo said on Monday after Zuma failed to appear at a hearing of the so-called state capture commission in Johannesburg.
Former South African president Jacob Zuma, appears at the hearing.Credit:AP
“The commission will approach the Constitutional Court and ask it to impose a term of imprisonment if it finds he is guilty of contempt.”
Zuma’s refusal to attend the hearing is his latest attempt to subvert the authority of his successor, Cyril Ramaphosa, whose efforts to stem graft have been undermined by a faction within the ruling African National Congress headed by officials aligned with the ex-president.
While the authorities need to show commitment to upholding the rule of law, arresting Zuma risks widening rifts within the ANC and stoking unrest in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal, where he retains strong support.
Former South African president Jacob Zuma in court in Johannesburg, South Africa.Credit:AP
Zuma, 78, was scheduled to testify on Monday after the Constitutional Court ruled on January 28 that he must appear before Zondo’s panel. Zuma said he had had a close personal relationship with the judge, and filed a separate lawsuit seeking to force Zondo to recuse himself on the grounds that he was biased.
“It is not the authority of the Constitutional Court that I reject, but its abuse by a few judges,” Zuma said in an emailed statement on Monday. “I have presented myself to the Zondo Commission twice and therefore there was no factual justification for the order given by the Constitutional Court. None whatsoever.”
Zuma “is not entitled to refuse to appear before the commission,” Zondo said. “We should all be subject to the same rules.”
The government has estimated more than 500 billion rand ($44 billion) was stolen from state coffers during Zuma’s nine-year rule, and at least 40 witnesses who have appeared before Zondo over the past three years have implicated the ex-president in aiding and abetting the looting spree.
“As you sharpen your pens to condemn me, I reiterate that I stand by my earlier statement and will not appear before a process that is not impartial,” Zuma said.
Zuma, who the ANC forced to quit in 2018 to stem a loss of electoral support, has denied wrongdoing and says the allegations against him are part of a smear campaign.
“The commission has now been deprived of the opportunity to question the former president,” Paul Pretorius, the head of the commission’s legal team, said at Monday’s hearing. “His evidence is obviously relevant to the commission’s work.”
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