Jacob Zuma vs Ray Zondo showdown: threats, disgruntled ministers and bias – 5 key takeaways

The court chambers at the state inquiry commission in Braamfontein became a battleground as Jacob Zuma played his hand. The former statesman looked tired, unwell and worried as his application to have Judge Ray Zondo was heard. It was a strange spectacle to behold as Zondo and Zuma squared off, both through their advocates who put up a hard fight. Zuma believes he will not get a fair hearing as he and Zondo have a personal and professional history. The embattled leader seems down to his last chips as he must account for allegations of corruption, influence and abuse of power during his nine-year tenure as president – Bernice Maune. 

Judge Ray Zondo denies being friendly with Jacob Zuma, disputing his 102-page affidavit 

Former president Jacob Zuma had pushed the envelope by saying he and Judge Ray Zondo were once friends. According to Zondo, they were acquaintances who shared a family tie and had not influenced each other’s careers in any way. This put paid to Zuma’s assertion that the two had spent time together, having conversations with visits to Nkandla.

“Although Mr Zuma and I have a cordial relationship, and have over the years interacted with each other pleasantly wherever we met and even at government functions, Mr Zuma’s statement that we are friends is not accurate. In this regard I highlight the following; Mr Zuma has never been to any of the houses that I live in with my family since the early 1999s. And I have never invited him. He only met my wife at the opening of Parliament or other government function. He has also never been to any of the places I’ve lived in Gauteng over the past 23/24 years since my appointment as a judge in 1997. Mr Zuma and I do not socialise and have never socialised.

“Mr Zuma does not get told of a death in my family and I have lost four siblings and my mother. I have never invited Mr Zuma to my birthdays or other functions since we got to know each other,” said Zondo.

Adv Paul Pretorius dismantles Jacob Zuma’s argument on recusal based on bias

What Zuma’s lawyers were lacking was sufficient evidence to prove Zondo was biased. The 102-page affidavit submitted by Mabuza Attorneys was not clear in how Zondo would not give Zuma a fair chance to respond. This was key as it formed the main basis of Zondo’s recusal application, Pretorius argued.

“Before you can recuse yourself it must be shown that you cannot show impartiality on the evidence once you have assessed all the evidence. It’s not enough for an applicant to say, in my position as a victim of conspiracy theories, I fear…that’s not enough. So the test which has been stated is will you or not bring an impartial mind to bear…when you’ve heard all the versions including the versions of the former president. That has not been alleged…or shown on the papers.

Pretorius added that there was no allegation that links any relationship to any allegation of bias.

Mr Zuma has never been to any of the houses that I live in with my family since the early 1999s. And I have never invited him

Jacob Zuma’s advocate, Muzi Sikhakhane questions the motive behind having one judge at the commission

The R1 billion commission which has run for over two years, should not have one chairperson said Sikhakane. It was his belief that this undermined its impartiality and made it a mammoth task for one person to handle such a large body of evidence.

“I’m surprised that a commission of this nature, probably the biggest after the TRC only has one chairperson. That on its own was a political blunder. Dare I say…but this was made by judges. I think to have one person on a matter that is so vulnerable to contradiction shouldn’t have been done. The solution to something like that would really relate to the evidence of Mr Zuma…I can’t be stopped from raising the recusal application because you and the President don’t know what to do,” said Sikhakane.

Zondo’s response: “It might not be a question of me and the president. Remember that the remedial action of the public protector said that the commission to investigate all of these issues must be chaired by a judge selected by the chief justice and appointed by the president.

“After being appointed I applied my mind into that issue because it is a very big commission. The problem that I foresaw is that if there were two members added to the commission it could result in a situation when the report is made, the member of the commission selected in accordance with public protector remedial action can be overruled by the other members and that could cause problems,” said Zondo.

Denel Judge Raymond Zondo at the state capture commission. His critics have slammed him for his treatment of Jacob Zuma. Denel
Judge Raymondo Zondo is the chairperson of the state capture commission

Jacob Zuma claims Zondo lined up witnesses who were disgruntled as he had fired them from his Cabinet

Of the 254 witnesses who have been called upon to provide affidavits and appear at the commission, Zuma’s counsel listed several as people who were apparently bent on implicating Zuma. From Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula to former Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene – all these were alleged to be disgruntled.

“The first days of this commission we were listening to people [shouting] from rooftops telling us that they were not corrupt. This commission lined them up in a way that is not intellectual.

“They have an axe to grind with Mr Zuma because he fired them. If you look at them, the star witnesses … what they came to say is a particular narrative about Mr Zuma. That selection lined up people that truly had a gripe and an axe to grind with Mr Zuma,” said Sikhakhane.

I’m surprised that a commission of this nature, probably the biggest after the TRC only has one chairperson. That on its own was a political blunder

Jacob Zuma may employ ally ex-SAA chairperson Dudu Myeni’s strategy of saying nothing in case of incriminating himself

If all else fails and Zondo is not recused, then Sikhakhane would instruct his client to not answer any questions related to state capture. This would be the same line of defence used by Myeni when she charged that her responses could be used against her by the National prosecuting Authority (NPA).

“I think a lot of the comments you made about which Mr Zuma complained may have been insensitive in circumstances of a witness who has come to what he believes is a slaughterhouse, reasonably so,” said Sikhakhane.

“Our second relief demonstrates that this is an act of frustration with the commission but not an act of defiance. What it seeks is to correct an environment distorted by your comments. When this commission is reviewed, you [Zondo] will be criticised, not the agenda some people are pushing behind the scenes. I can bring him here and tell him to say nothing, and that is a stalemate I can do,” said Sikhakhane.

Watch the full application for recusal below

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