Zuma ‘not scared to testify’ at capture probe
He has no reason not to cooperate and he should not be treated like he is a suspect, says his lawyer
Jacob Zuma’s lawyer says the former president is “not scared” to testify at the state capture inquiry and that he will do so when invited.
“He has no reason not to cooperate, he has never not cooperated. He’s not running away and he is not scared to come. He’s willing to come to testify,” Zuma’s attorney Daniel Mantsha told Times Select on Thursday.
“Therefore he should not be treated like he is a suspect, or an accused person.”
He stressed that Zuma, as the former head of state, was more than willing to engage with the inquiry’s evidence leaders – and assist them – if asked to do so.
“Why can’t you ask him, sit down with him, and ask him, can you help us with this and that? Why is that not being done?”
Zuma’s lawyers released a statement on Thursday insisting that he is “cooperating” with the inquiry. He hit back at Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, asking him to respond to the evidence against him, calling it “unfortunate”.
“Former president Zuma made an election in terms of the rules of the commission that he will not apply to cross-examine the witnesses who allegedly implicated him or may implicate him,” the statement read.
“It would seem that despite him cooperating with the commission his election (in terms of the commission’s own rules) is misunderstood as non-cooperation. We find this very unfortunate since former president Zuma has sent his legal representatives to every sitting of the commission where the alleged evidence which may implicate him was being given. And further he has honoured, through his legal team, all the requests which were brought to the attention of his legal team by the commission.”
Zuma’s lawyers issued the statement hours after Zondo revealed that he had “invited” him to respond to specific allegations made against him by former government communications head Themba Maseko and ex-ANC MP Vytjie Mentor.
Zondo also ruled on Thursday that Ajay and Rajesh Gupta would not be given the right to cross-examine the witnesses against them unless they agreed to testify themselves, and face cross-examination, in SA.
Key to his decision, he said, was determining whether Ajay or Rajesh had “any lawful reason” to not return to SA to testify.
“Mr Ajay Gupta and Mr Rajesh Gupta’s stated reasons for not being prepared to return to the country and give evidence before this commission is in effect that the alleged incompetence or irresponsibility of the Hawks may result in them being arrested when they should not be arrested, and the irresponsibility of the NPA may result in the NPA preferring criminal charges against them in circumstances where no charges should be preferred against them.”
Zondo said he did not accept this argument, since SA was a constitutional democracy where those who had been wrongly arrested or prosecuted could vindicate their rights in court.
“In the circumstances, I am of the view that Mr Ajay Gupta and Mr Rajesh Gupta have no lawful reason, nor valid reason, for not being prepared to return to South Africa and appear before this commission and give evidence and answer whatever questions may be put to them while they appear before this commission, physically and personally.”
Zondo further dismissed the Guptas’ proposals that the commission staff either travel overseas to hear their evidence, or hear it in SA via video link.
The Guptas have yet to respond to that ruling.
Following that decision, Zondo referred to a letter written by Zuma’s lawyers to the commission last week.
“It was announced ... that former president Jacob Zuma had taken the view that he is not implicated by any of the witnesses so far and therefore that is why he did not apply for the right for him to cross-examine anybody,” Zondo stated.
“Nevertheless, there are some areas where I would like him to deal with. For example, the evidence of Miss Mentor that, while she was at the Gupta residence, when she got agitated and became loud, the former president emerged from one of the rooms and they spoke and he walked her to the car, as well as the evidence of Mr Maseko, that he got a call from the former president on the afternoon that he was leaving his offices to attend a meeting with Mr Ajay Gupta.
“I have invited the lawyers for the former president and indicated my wish that he could put this in an affidavit, that he could put his version in regard to those aspects in an affidavit to assist the commission. So I have extended that invitation to the former president to assist the commission, by considering deposing to an affidavit and deal with those two aspects.”
Zuma’s advocate, Muzi Sikhakhane, had previously stated that the former president wished to “participate meaningfully” in the inquiry. His lawyers say he “will apply his mind to the invite and shall convey his reply to the Chair of the Commission as soon as he has consulted with his team”.