Zuma Shuns South Africa Graft Inquiry in Defiance of Court Order

Former South African President Jacob Zuma said he will flout an order by the nation’s top court by refusing to cooperate with a judicial panel that’s probing graft during his rule, and dared the authorities to arrest him.

“The Commission Into Allegations of State Capture can expect no further cooperation from me in any of their processes,” Zuma said in a statement on Monday. “If this stance is considered to be a violation of their law, then let their law take its course. I do not fear being arrested, I do not fear being convicted nor do I fear being incarcerated.”

The Constitutional Court ruled on Jan. 28 that the 78-year-old Zuma must testify before the panel headed by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo. Zuma said he’d had a close personal relationship with Zondo and unsuccessfully sought his recusal on the grounds that he was biased.

The government has estimated more than 500 billion rand ($33 billion) was stolen from state coffers during Zuma’s nine-year rule, and dozens of witnesses who’ve appeared before Zondo have implicated the ex-president in aiding and abetting the looting spree. Zuma, who the ruling party forced to quit in 2018 to stem a loss of electoral support, has denied wrongdoing and says the allegations against him are part of a smear campaign.

“It is clear that the laws of this country are politicized even at the highest court in the land,” Zuma said in his six-page statement. “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.”

Zuma also complained that his family members and friends had been unfairly targeted and had their bank accounts closed merely because they were associated with him, and said the authorities’ inaction left him no alternative but to be defiant in the face of injustice.

The ex-president walked out of a panel hearing in November after refusing to answer questions, prompting Zondo to ask the apex court to compel him to testify and order contempt charges to be filed against him. That case is still under investigation, said Philani Nkwalase, a spokesman for the police’s Hawks investigative unit.

The ex-president has been summoned to appear before the panel again on Feb. 15. Should he fail to do so, he could be charged with contempt of court, said Mbekezli Benjamin, a legal expert at Judges Matter, an advocacy group that monitors the judiciary’s conduct.

Political Tension

While Zuma may have wanted to provoke the authorities and stoke political tension, the inquiry’s chairman had sought to avert confrontation, said Sithembile Mbete, a political analyst at the University of Pretoria.

“Zondo wanted to avoid the scene of the former president being arrested because that would contribute to the denting of the credibility of the commission -- at least in the eyes of Zuma’s supporters,” she said. “It would play into their narrative that the entire exercise is for the sole purpose of victimizing Jacob Zuma.”

Mbuyiselo Stemela, the commission’s spokesman declined to comment.

Zuma’s legal travails aren’t confined to his wrangling with the commission -- he’s also due to appear in court on Feb. 23 to face charges that he took bribes from arms dealers in the 1990s.

Zuma’s ultimate goal may be to undermine the legitimacy of his successor Cyril Ramaphosa, and even if he fails he is proving to be a major distraction, according to Mbete.

“There are always fires to put out,” she said. “That on its own is destructive enough.”

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