Former President Jacob Zuma not only remains defiant in his stand-off with the State Capture Commission but has also ignored the Constitutional Court deadline to file a response to the commission’s contempt application that could see him facing jail time – a strong indication that he will not oppose the historic case, according to legal writer Karyn Maughan in a News24 report.

In directions issued on 1 March, the court gave Zuma and police authorities until the end of 8 March to ‘file answering affidavits, if any’. By the close of business, Zuma’s lawyers had failed to file any such affidavit. Nor had they filed any formal notice that the former President would oppose or abide by the court’s decision in the inquiry’s case. They have also not written to the court to indicate their stance on the case.

The commission wants the Constitutional Court to order law enforcement authorities to ‘take all steps as may be required to give effect’ to any order given by the court for Zuma’s arrest and detention for contempt. The police and Hawks have not filed any notice to oppose that application.

Zuma stands accused of repeatedly defying the inquiry summons issued against him, walking out of the commission on 19 November and making false claims of corruption against the judiciary. In court papers, inquiry secretary Itumeleng Mosala argues that the two-year sentence that the commission is seeking against Zuma is appropriate, because he can be shown to have committed multiple acts of contempt against the Inquiry and would potentially face a four-and-a-half-year sentence, if he was tried in a criminal court.

Zuma maintained his defiance of the commission at a hastily arranged virtual meeting with the ANC’s Top Six this week. A second News24 report says he refused to capitulate to pleas that he should appear before the commission. Party secretary-general Ace Magashule said the seven-hour meeting resolved that Zuma would decide whether he appears before the commission after consultation with his lawyers. ‘The Top Six agreed to give him space to continue consulting with his lawyers about whether to appear before the judicial commission of inquiry...we left that matter because he will further consult his lawyers. Comrade Zuma made a very extensive presentation on what prompted his decision not to appear before the Zondo Commission... he also talked about his rights as a South African,’ Magashule said. He added Zuma believed he was entitled to have his rights protected, as enshrined in the Constitution. ‘Comrade Zuma told the Top Six that he has been subjected to unfair persecution and prosecution over two decades. He emphasised that he respects the Constitution, and he is entitled to the basic rights,’ Magashule said.

The former President has maintained that the chairperson of the commission, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, was biased against him. Magashule said Zuma has not refused to appear before the commission – but ‘he has issues, not with the commission, but with the judge’. The secretary-general, who is a loyal Zuma ally, said there was nothing wrong with differing with judges. The report notes Magashule would not say whether the ANC Top Six instructed Zuma to appear before the Zondo Commission.

Zuma is understood to have spoken for two hours. In a soliloquy of unhappiness, he told the Top Six that he was being set up by a biased judge (Zondo) and that he had been treated unfairly by Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, according to a Daily Maverick report by Ferial Haffajee. Madonsela’s report, A State of Capture, is the basis of the Zondo Commission. Zuma told the ANC leadership Madonsela had usurped his power by finding that he could not appoint the judge to chair the commission. He said the ANC was not standing by him and that the judiciary was biased against him. Said Magashule: ‘We all agreed there was not any intention to undermine the Constitution.’ According to Haffajee Magashule ad-libbed his own critiques and on several occasions referred to the State Capture Inquiry as ‘the so-called Zondo Commission’. He also seemed to draw a distinction between the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Some of South Africa’s foremost civil society organisations have come out strongly in support of the commission and have insisted that Zuma abide by the law. The 13 civil society organisations have released a joint statement – recorded on the Daily Maverick site – stating that the politicising of the Zondo Commission needs to stop, while condemning Zuma’s continued defiance of the commission. They say: ‘There can be no more harmful assault on this bedrock (the Constitution) than that a former President, who has enjoyed every power and privilege under this law – and continues to enjoy the privileges of his former office – should insist that he be immune from the reach of the commission and of the Constitutional Court, and that this impunity stand unchecked. That he would insist on immunity while also seeking to sully the reputation of our judiciary, but making no credible case for these damaging charges, is but a further affront. We have all come too far to allow underhanded politics to poison the well of truth and justice.'

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