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, otherwise known as the Zondo Commission, on Monday.
Zuma’s non-appearance at the commission, chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, followed a January 26 Constitutional Court (ConCourt) ruling that he had to appear, after the former president left the inquiry on November 29 without permission from Zondo.
The commission had applied to the ConCourt to grant an order to have Zuma comply with the summons issued by the commission to give evidence.
Zuma’s latest non-appearance has led to the commission applying to the ConCourt for an order that the former president be found in contempt of court – an offence he could be fined or jailed for.
Zondo said not having Zuma appear could be far-reaching, as it could mean 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 was to appear revolved around his alleged relationship with Zondo. Zuma maintains they are friends, which meant that as commission chairperson Zondo is conflicted.
Zondo maintained that they hardly knew each other, so there was 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.
Speaking on Monday afternoon on the matter, Zondo said if Zuma and his lawyers wanted to oppose the commission’s application in the ConCourt compelling him to give evidence, they had the chance to bring up the need for 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 then went on to say that witnesses could not give abridged evidence once they have already appeared. He said there was a mistaken belief on the part of Zuma’s lawyers that witnesses had the right not to incriminate themselves and so could refuse to answer questions.
He said this was not true as this was not a court of law, where accused had such rights.
“No witness has the right to remain silent once they take the witness stand.”
No right to stay silent
Zondo said if Zuma’s lawyers felt he had the right not to incriminate himself, they could have also brought it before the ConCourt but chose not to.
By ordering him to appear at the commission, Zondo said the ConCourt “had not taken any rights away” from Zuma because had no right to remain silent to begin with.
Zondo said he asked the ConCourt 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.”