Former president Jacob Zuma could soon be in jail for contempt after not appearing at the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture on Monday.
Zuma’s non-appearance at the commission, chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, followed a January 26 Constitutional Court order that he must appear.
The ruling came after Zuma left the inquiry in November without permission from Zondo – the commission responded by applying to the court for an order that would compel Zuma to comply with the commission’s summons to give evidence.
Zuma’s latest non-appearance has led to the commission again applying to the Constitutional Court, this time for an order that the former president be found in contempt – an offence he could be fined or jailed for.
Zondo said the consequences of not having Zuma appear could be far-reaching as other witnesses could also refuse to appear, not only at the commission but also in the courts.
“If it is allowed to prevail there could be lawlessness and chaos in the courts.”
‘You know me’
The impasse over whether Zuma should appear centres on his alleged relationship with Zondo.
Zuma maintains they are friends and that as commission chair Zondo is conflicted.
Zondo maintains that the two hardly know each other and that there is no conflict to speak of.
All of this led to Zuma’s lawyers sending a letter to the commission, saying that Zuma would only appear once Zondo had recused himself.
Read: Zuma files challenge against Judge Zondo (Dec 16, 2020)
Speaking on Monday afternoon, Zondo said that if Zuma and his lawyers had wanted to oppose the commission’s application that he be compelled to give evidence, they had the chance to bring up the matter of recusal then – but chose not to.
“They chose not to contest that in the Constitutional Court. They chose not to participate in those proceedings.”
Zondo went on to say that witnesses could not give abridged evidence once they have already appeared.
He further said that there is a mistaken belief on the part of Zuma’s lawyers that witnesses have the right not to incriminate themselves and can thus refuse to answer questions.
He said this is not true as the commission is not a court of law, where accused have such rights.
“No witness has the right to remain silent once they take the witness stand [at the commission].”
No right to stay silent
Zondo said that if Zuma’s lawyers felt he had the right not to incriminate himself, they could also have brought this matter before the Constitutional Court – but chose not to.
By ordering him to appear at the commission, Zondo said the Constitutional Court “had not taken any rights away” from Zuma because he had no right to remain silent to begin with.
Zondo said he had asked the court to charge Zuma with contempt with a heavy heart.
“The commission did not rush to the Constitutional Court to compel him to appear before it. The commission did so when it was clear that he was not prepared to comply with the summons.”