Johannesburg – Former president Jacob Zuma has suffered a major blow after the Constitutional Court ruled he was compelled to appear before the Zondo commission and answer questions on his implication in allegations of state capture.
This comes after the commission, headed by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, approached the apex court on an urgent basis on December 29 in a bid to force Zuma to comply with its summonses which it issued against him following his refusal to honour the invitation by the commission for him to come and testify as a former head of state and an implicated party.
In November, Zuma staged a walk out from the commission after his application for Zondo to recuse himself failed, triggering the move by the commission to open a criminal complaint against him for violating summons.
Delivering the judgment, Justice Chris Jafta said the commission had been too lenient and treated Zuma with kid gloves and it should have used its legal powers to force him to appear before it through summonses from the beginning.
“Despite issuing 2 526 summonses against other witnesses, the commission opted not to issue a summons against the former president. Instead, he was invited to the commission. No reason was issued for this favourable treatment to the president,” Justice Jafta said.
Justice Jafta said while the commission was to blame for the situation it found itself in in relation to Zuma’s delaying tactics, the court had allowed direct access as it was not only the commission’s interests that were affected by the matter.
“The former president is firmly placed as the centre of investigations which include that he had surrendered constitutional powers to unelected private individuals. The allegations investigated are so serious that if established, a huge threat to this country’s fledgling democracy would have occurred,” he said.
Justice Jafta said Zuma was compelled to obey all summonses and directives issued against him by the commission.
The apex court also directed Zuma to appear and give evidence before the commission on the dates and times determined by it.
Justice Jafta said Zuma’s behaviour and evasiveness towards the commission was “a direct breach of the rule of law”.
“In our system, no one is above the law. Even those who have the privilege of making laws are bound to respect and comply with those laws. For a long as they are in operations, laws must be obeyed,” he said.
Zuma’s legal counsel last year indicated he would choose to remain silent and not respond to questions posed to him if he was forced to appear before the commission.
The Constitutional Court has, however, ruled Zuma had no right to remain silent when he appears before the commission.
“This right is available to arrested and accused persons and not to witnesses,” Justice Jafta said.
Justice Jafta said Zuma would be able to use the privileges extended to witnesses by the Commissions Act, including that the witness could not be compelled to give answers that would expose him to a criminal charge.
“But it is the witness who must claim the privilege against self-incrimination by demonstrating how the answer to a specific question would breach the privilege. This privilege is not there for the taking by witnesses. There must be sufficient grounds that in answering a question, the witness will incriminate himself,” he said.
Zuma has also been slapped with the cost order on the matter despite the fact he had chosen not to take part in the matter. – IOL