Zuma backtracks on threat to halt Zondo testimony

By Nkululeko Ncana and Mike Cohen

(Bloomberg) – Former South African President Jacob Zuma backtracked on a threat to halt his testimony to a judicial panel that’s investigating whether he consented to and benefited from widespread looting during his nine-year rule after it agreed to limit the scope of its questioning.

The commission of inquiry adjourned on July 17 after Zuma’s lawyers objected to the panel’s line of inquiry, arguing he was being unfairly cross-examined. On Friday, Zuma’s lawyer Muzi Sikhakhane said the ex-president had decided to take no further part in the proceedings, prompting an intervention by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, who heads the panel.

The parties eventually reached an agreement and the two legal teams will now meet during the next two weeks to iron out their differences, Zondo said. Under the terms of the deal, Zuma will be told which aspects of the testimony of previous witnesses he will be required to respond to and he will return to testify at a later date.

“I don’t think anyone should have the wrong impression that the raising of concerns were meant to disrupt processes,” Zuma said after the agreement was reached. “These were genuine concerns.”

Looting, bribes

Zondo invited Zuma to the inquiry to respond to allegations that he facilitated the looting of state funds, took bribes and flaunted government processes when he was president. Zuma has testified that he’s the victim of a conspiracy by foreign and domestic intelligence agencies intent on ousting and discrediting him, and denied any wrongdoing.

Zuma’s rule was characterised by policy missteps, inappropriate appointments and rampant corruption – ex-Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan estimates more than R100bn ($7.2bn) may have been stolen. His presidency came to an abrupt end in February 2018, when the ruling party forced him to quit to stem a loss of support.