KwaZulu-Natal premier Sihle Zikalala says chief justice Raymond Zondo should have recused himself from hearing former president Jacob Zuma’s testimony at the state capture commission even if he was not conflicted.
In an interview with the Sunday Times, Zikalala said Zondo’s refusal to recuse himself fanned a perception that Zuma was being ill-treated, which led to the mobilisation of his supporters to revolt.
Zuma refused to return to the state capture inquiry after Zondo rejected his application that he recuse himself from hearing his testimony. Zuma argued that Zondo was conflicted because of their past relationship, but Zondo denied this.
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The Constitutional Court ordered Zuma to appear before the commission but he was a no-show. The court then sentenced Zuma to 15 months’ imprisonment for contempt of court. Zuma began his sentence on July 7 last year, and violence erupted the next day.
Zikalala, who is running for a second term as ANC chair in KwaZulu-Natal, said chaos could have been avoided had Zondo “listened” to Zuma’s application. He was responding to a question about what could have been done to prevent the July riots.
“It’s an issue that we have analysed and presented to the ANC officials. On the one hand you have the issue of failure of the former president to present himself to the commission … which was his right, according to him.
“On the other hand, we say that the judge should have listened to the recusal application and [said]: ‘I’m perceived to be conflicted in this case and therefore let me recuse myself.’”
Zikalala is a former Zuma ally who was instrumental in his rise to the ANC presidency. Since 2018, Zuma’s backers have accused Zikalala of having ditched Zuma and cosied up with President Cyril Ramaphosa.
According to Zikalala, the chief justice’s recusal would have given credibility to the commission, even in the eyes of Zuma supporters.
“He should have said, ‘Legally, I’m not conflicted here. What you are raising is not correct. But to be transparent , for the sake of credibility of the commission and the matter, I will recuse myself.’”
Asked if this would not have amounted to treating Zuma as a special case, Zikalala said: “There are many cases where judges have recused themselves.”
On the one hand you have the issue of failure of the former president to present himself to the commission … which was his right
He said Ramaphosa and other ANC national officials could have acted with speed to intervene before Zuma’s incarceration.
The KwaZulu-Natal leadership, he said, exhausted all avenues to find a solution, including meeting Zuma.
“We played our role. We met the president maybe three times. We raised the matter with the national officials … We met former president Zuma as well.
“We discussed in the ANC. We deployed members in structures to call for calm. But the reality is that the situation had been bad for a longer period. We called on members to respect the judiciary. But … members were saying the former president is being ill-treated.
“Maybe before that, national leadership should have done what we normally do. Whenever they are serious issues, there is engagement with structures.”
Zikalala said Ramaphosa could have done more to defuse the tension around Zuma’s sentencing.
“The president should have played a role. I think there was no statement from the president which was strong in the period leading to the arrest of former president Zuma.
“We met national officials, as the officials of this province, to say let’s deal with this matter. The officials decided to meet the former president on their own. We were not involved, while it was us who asked for that meeting. The meeting didn’t yield any fruitful results,” he said.