Some legal experts have described former President Jacob Zuma’s refusal to participate in the proceedings at the Constitutional Court as a snub against the legal system and disrespect for the rule of law.

On Monday, Zuma indicated that he will not take part in any proceeding at the Constitutional Court in an application brought by the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture.

The Commission applied to the highest court in the land to force him to appear between the Commission on the 18th and the 22nd of January 2021 as well as between the 15th and 19th of February.

Chairperson of the State Capture Commission and Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo said: “I have decided to request the Secretary of the Commission to lay a criminal complaint with the SAPS against Mr. Zuma so that the police can investigate his conduct. Apart from that, the Secretary of the Commission will make an application to the Constitutional Court on an urgent basis for the Constitutional Court to issue an order that will compel Mr. Zuma to appear before the Commission in accordance with the summons that will be issued.”

But on Monday through his lawyers, Zuma indicated that he will not participate in those proceedings.

Former President Jacob Zuma walks out of the commission:

Experts have their take on the matter 

Constitutional Law Expert Pierre de Vos says although this can be read as a snub against the highest court in the land, it will be difficult to say that if Zuma is forced to appear he will answer any question during the proceedings.

“The refusal of former President Jacob Zuma to respond to the application of the State Capture Commission to force the former President to come and testify can be read as a snub against the Constitutional Court and the legal system. But there is no legal obligation on him to respond to the arguments made by the court. It would mean though that his version will not be in front of the court when the court decides on whether to grant direct access. So, while it can be read as a snub to the Constitutional Court and to the legal system, it can also be read as an admission that the law and the facts are against the president and that he does have the legal obligation to appear before the Commission. We don’t know whether he will in fact appear and if he appears whether he will be answering the questions. ”

The Director of the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution, Lawson Naidoo on the other hand says Zuma’s refusal to participate in the proceedings is a total disrespect for the rule of law.

“It is disrespect for and a dismissive response to the highest court in the land. But it is consistent with Mr. Zuma’s approach to all matters relating to investigations into allegations of state capture. This could be seen as a pre-emptive walk-out by Mr. Zuma just as he did from the Commission of Inquiry last month. Whilst Mr. Zuma is under no obligation to oppose the application that has been launched by Professor Mosala on behalf of the Commission of Inquiry, the letter could have been couched in more diplomatic terms and made it clear that the former President will abide by the decision of the court. This demonstrates that Mr. Zuma – a former President – the holder of the highest office in the land has no regard for the courts, the judicial system, and indeed for the rule of law.” 

Attacks on the commission

Meanwhile, at its last National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting for the year last week, the ANC called on all its members to refrain from attacking the Commission and its Chairperson Justice Raymond Zondo. Earlier several party members including MKMVA members have strongly criticised the commission for its decision to lay criminal complaint against Zuma for leaving the commission without permission last month.

Reading out the NEC statement, President Cyril Ramaphosa said they have all agreed to support and cooperate with the Commission.

“The NEC agreed that we must confirm our appreciation of the work of the Zondo Commission under very difficult circumstances. We affirm our call to all members of our movement to cooperate with the commission and to refrain from unnecessary attacks on the Deputy Chief Justice and the work that he has been asked to do by the South African nation.”

Allegations against Zuma

The State Capture Commission wants Zuma to respond to allegations made against him by more than 30 witnesses. They include former ministers and deputy ministers, former directors-general, Member of Parliament, and former executives of several State-Owned Enterprises.

The Commission also wants the court to declare unlawful Zuma’s abrupt walk-out of the Commission’s proceedings on 19 November.

The hearing on this matter at the Constitutional Court has been set for 29 December.