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Zondo vs Zuma explained

How many times can the man from Nkandla ghost Zondo… and get away with it?

By Sarah Evans

Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo is mad. Like, really mad. You could tell from his steely demeanour on Monday, as he berated and absent former president Jacob Zuma for not appearing at the State Capture Commission of Inquiry…  again.

It’s becoming a little bit tired to say the least: The commission, which Zondo chairs, asks Zuma to appear, and Zuma refuses. The Constitutional Court recently ruled that Zuma has to appear before the commission, and can no longer ignore it or refuse to answer questions. 

Still, on Monday, Zuma said he would not appear, again. This time, his excuse was this:

Last year, Zuma asked Zondo to recuse himself. That means he wanted Zondo to step down as chairperson of the commission, allegedly because they had been friends years before. Zondo said that was not true and said he would stay on as chairperson. (It was a little odd that Zuma decided to raise this point years after he appointed Zondo to the commission.)

Now, Zuma wants that decision reviewed in the high court. And for that reason he says he can’t appear before the commission now.

What did the judge say?

Zondo was having none of it. He said that this issue – the recusal application – was raised during the Constitutional Court hearings, but because Zuma decided not to participate in it at all (see the pattern here?), Zuma had no leg to stand on now.

Technically, Zuma’s no-show makes him in contempt of court, which is a crime. Zondo has already laid a charge of contempt against Zuma (twice) for refusing to appear previously, and many people expected him to do the same on Monday.

But… plot twist!

Zondo said he would approach the highest court in the land, the Constitutional Court, to give Zuma a prison sentence, Business Day reported. Can he do this? Legal analyst James Grant believes so. In a Twitter thread, Grant said that because the order for Zuma to appear came from the Constitutional Court, the Court can impose a prison sentence on Zuma. A legal “master stroke” by Zondo, Grant said.

Why is Zondo so mad?

Zuma, like everyone in the country, isn’t above the law. That’s why, when the commission called him to appear, it was a legal request that isn’t up for discussion (unless Zuma wants to tackle that request in order. Something he hasn’t done yet, and we don’t want to give him any ideas…) Zuma, however, doesn’t think so. He’s defied the commission on several occasions, despite its endless attempts to get him to appear.

As journalist Niren Tolsi wrote for New Frame recently, the only way to describe Zuma’s attitude is: contempt.

Before he was due to appear on Monday, Zuma issued a statement saying he would not appear for a technical legal reason. Then, after Zondo’s ruling, he once again claimed to be the victim of a political conspiracy. (He’s presented no evidence to support this claim.)

He’s “ghosted” (to use Tolsi’s words) Zondo so many times, accusing the judge of bias, and likening his legal troubles to the persecution of the apartheid government. It seems the judge has finally had it.

Why should Zuma appear?

This is the question Zuma keeps asking, as if he simply has no idea what he’s been accused of, like a child caught stealing from the cookie jar, who looks innocently at his mother and squeaks, “I didn’t do anything!”

As evidence leader Paul Pretorius pointed out on Monday, Zuma has implicated at least 40 times during the three years the commission had been sitting. The allegations against him are a lot and you can read the Daily Maverick’s round up of them here.

What does everyone else say?

Everyone seems to be on Zuma’s case about this. As the Sunday Times reported, the ANC’s most senior leaders, the National Executive Committee, tried to get Zuma to go to the commission this week. News24 reported that the ANC’s top six officials hope to meet with the former president to get him to comply, but it doesn’t seem like the party will impose any sanctions on him if he refuses (Zuma is still an ANC member who can technically be disciplined by the party).

Even EFF leader Julius Malema went down to Nkandla recently to try to convince Zuma to appear. (City Press reported that his intentions were anything but honourable, but that’s another story, which you can read about here.)

Former public protector Thuli Madonsela said she didn’t understand why Zuma didn’t want to appear before the commission to give his side of the story, News24 reported. During Madonsela’s investigation into state capture, which is what led to the establishment of the commission in the first place, Zuma had complained that he wasn’t given a chance to give his side of the story. (Madonsela released transcripts of her interviews with Zuma at the time showing this wasn’t true.)

Is anyone on Zuma’s side?

Sadly, yes. Zuma’s friends over at the MKMVA – a group of disgruntled ANC members who claim to have been part of the ANC’s military wing under apartheid but are clearly young enough to be Zuma’s grandchildren – gathered at Nkandla on Monday to protect Zuma should the police arrive.

Zuma’s personal defender, Carl Niehaus (a fraudster – read all about his dodgy past here) launched an assault on Zondo on Monday night, too, providing no evidence to back up his claims.

Will Zuma go to prison?

That’s the million Rand question. As legal journalist Karyn Maughan wrote, it’s not clear whether Zondo will be able to convince the Constitutional Court to jail Zuma. But at the very least, it will force Zuma to give some sort of explanation to the Court about why he keeps “ghosting” the commission.

We’re all ears, Mr Zuma.