By Lehlohonolo Lehana.
Photo Credit: Esa Alexander.
The Constitutional Court on Tuesday heard the state capture commission's urgent application to compel former President Jacob Zuma to appear and give evidence before the inquiry.
Zuma has refused to take the witness stand, arguing that the commission was unfair and biased towards him.
The application followed Zuma’s walkout — in an apparent breach of a summons — from the inquiry in November after his application for the recusal of chairperson deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo was rejected.
Counsel for the inquiry Tembeka Ngcukaitobi SC told the court since 2018 Zuma had employed a "variety of stratagems" to avoid testifying.
Ngcukaitobi faced tough questions from the bench on whether the application was truly urgent. Justices Mbuyiseli Madlanga and Chris Jafta, in particular, asked Ngcukaitobi whether this was not a case of "self-created" urgency.
They suggested that, as far back as November 2019, it was clear Zuma was not co-operating with the inquiry since it felt a summons was necessary. Yet the inquiry still held an "adversarial process" over the summons for Zuma to appear, with the inquiry's legal team making an application that was opposed by Zuma’s team, something not even required by the inquiry's regulations.
"Why must a summons be issued only after an adversarial process? I do not understand at all. To me it seems it was all a total waste of time — or was it not?" Madlanga asked.
He said there was more than six months of "deafening silence" at the beginning of 2020 — from January to August, which the inquiry had not explained at all, said Madlanga.
Ngcukaitobi said a big chunk of that was attributable to the Covid-19 lockdown, and said there was not a deafening silence from the inquiry.
He said notices were sent under the inquiry's regulations requiring Zuma to answer specific allegations. The "adversarial process" over the summons was done to be fair to Zuma, he said.
Ngcukaitobi argued that if the inquiry had gone to the high court, instead of directly to the ConCourt, a route only allowed in the most exceptional circumstances, it would have defeated the whole purpose as the inquiry has a limited lifespan.
The inquiry is due to deliver its report by the end of March, and even though Zondo has indicated it will apply for an extension until the end of June, there is no knowing whether this will be granted, Ngcukaitobi said.
Zuma had indicated he would not be participating in the court case.
Judgment was reserved.
Video Courtesy of SABC.