In the latest bid to avoid giving evidence at the state capture inquiry, former president of the Republic of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, has filed an application with the said commission for the presiding officer of the commission, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, to recuse himself as chairperson of the commission. This comes after the Deputy Chief Justice had previously issued an order that Zuma is obliged to attend proceedings from 16-20 November 2020 where he is required to give evidence. Zuma has previously refused to answer questions at the commission claiming that he is being treated unfairly as the type of questions that he is being asked, gives an impression that he is guilty of the state capture. At the time, Zuma gave his own definition of state capture arguing that for the state to be captured, all three branches of state , namely, the legislature, the executive and the judiciary need to be captured. He argued that this did not happen and we can therefore, not talk of state capture. In July 2019, Zuma managed to leave the commission unscathed and the commission continued to call other witnesses and continue with its work.
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This time around, the commission took a serious attitude towards Zuma testifying before it as witness after witness implicated him in the state capture project. The Commission was not prepared to allow him any latitude to refuse. Zuma then came up with his application for the recusal of the deputy chief justice. His lawyers argued that the commission established solely to destroy Zuma and that the line-up of witnesses prove that Zuma is the target of the state capture enquiry. He further states that the commission chairperson is a close friend of his and that it would not be approprite that he should take down his eveidence.
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Advocate Paul Pretorius, arguing for the commission and against the recusal application stated that the deputy chief justice was performing an executive function at the commission and not a judicial one and therefor that the issue of recusal does not arise. In any event that if the chairperson were to recuse himself, the commission would collapse and this after almost R1billion of tax payers’ moneys have been spent on the commission in the last two years, a situation that is too hard to contemplate. In any event, it was argued that Zuma is the one who appointed the deputy chief justice as chairperson of the commission and that it is strange that today, he is arguing against that appointment.
The chairperson himself also questioned the idea of appointing one commissioner to such an important commission and that two or three commissioners would have been appropriate. The matter was initially postponed to Wednesday, 18 November 2020 for a decision on the application for recusal and was later postponed to Thursday, 19 November 2020. Zuma is very likely to take the matter on review to the high court which will buy him some more time before he can testify.