Zuma refuses to testify in the Zondo commission, saying he’d rather go to jail

Former president Jacob Zuma said on Monday that he would defy the Constitutional Court order to appear before the Zondo commission, accusing the court of political bias and the commission of persecuting him in a manner reminiscent of the apartheid regime.

His confirmation that he would not testify before the inquiry into state capture came in a five-page statement that opened with the claim that he remained highly popular and had been inundated with messages of support since the court handed down its ruling last week.

“With this groundswell of messages, I felt moved to publicly express solidarity with the sentiments and concerns raised with me about a clearly politicised segment of the judiciary that now heralds an imminent constitutional crisis in this country,” he wrote.

Zuma then launched a deeply personal attack on Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, attempting to refute the judge’s denial that they had a personal relationship that obliged him to recuse himself from hearing the former president’s testimony.

He claimed that he stepped into the breach to pay maintenance for the child Zondo fathered with the sister of one of Zuma’s wives in the 1990s.

“Deputy Chief Justice Zondo, in dismissing the application to recuse himself, was again frugal and expedient with the truth in how he contextualised and defined the nature of the personal relationship we had. Perhaps by Western culture’s standard of defining kinship, he may be correct if the yardstick is of family events attended or family invitations issued,” he wrote. 

“I had relied on his own personal integrity, which now seems very compromised, to disclose to the public the extent to which I have repeatedly intervened financially in matters pertaining to the maintenance of the child whose details he has already divulged.”

Moreover, Zuma claimed Zondo had frequently met him when he was the president to discuss his career aspirations and hopes of promotion.

Zuma accused the Constitutional Court of stripping him of his fundamental rights and suggested that, with hindsight, Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng’s decision to name Zondo to head the inquiry into state capture was a clue as to the persecution he would later experience and proof of the judiciary’s complicity.

“With the recent decision of the Constitutional Court, one cannot help but wonder why it is that Chief Justice Mogoeng initially informed me that this commission would be chaired by Judge [Siraj] Desai but shortly thereafter changed this decision and informed me that the commission would be chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Zondo instead.”

Declaring that he would rather face prison than the witness stand at the commission, he said the country’s highest court had followed the lead of the commission in victimising him.

“It is clear that the laws of this country are politicised even at the highest court in the land. Recently at the State Capture commission, allegations made against the judiciary have been overlooked and suppressed by the chairperson himself,” he said. 

This appeared to be a reference to testimony by the State Security Agency last week about a covert operation to bribe judges, ironically to be lenient to Zuma.

“It is also patently clear to me that I am being singled out for different and special treatment by the judiciary and the legal system as a whole,” he continued. 

“I, therefore, state in advance that the commission into allegations of state capture can expect no further cooperation from me in any of their processes going forward. If this stance is considered to be a violation of their law, then let their law take its course.

“In the circumstances, I am left with no other alternative but to be defiant against injustice as I did against the apartheid government. I am again prepared to go to prison to defend the Constitutional rights that I personally fought for.”

Zuma said he would serve whatever sentence was imposed on him, but his current woes were more painful than the liberation struggle because “it is now a black liberated government behaving in this way against one of their own”.

The commission has summoned Zuma to appear before it from 15 to 19 February. On Thursday the Constitutional Court ordered Zuma to comply with the summons and not remain silent when questioned, save where he could justify resorting to the privilege against self-incrimination.In December, the commission approached the court, arguing in its application that it did not believe the former president would defy an order from the apex court.

Zuma defied a summons to appear to testify in mid-January.

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