JOHANNESBURG – A legal showdown is looming in South Africa where former president Jacob Zuma is refusing to obey court orders to testify at a judicial inquiry into corruption charges against him.
Zuma has been warned that he is not above the law after he publicly stated that he intends to defy a court order to appear at the inquiry.
It is a test of whether President Cyril Ramaphosa will be able to follow up on his promises to take decisive action against pervasive corruption.
Deep divisions in the ruling party, the African National Congress, have been exposed as the party's secretary-general Ace Magashule has voiced his support of Zuma.
“Just leave comrade Zuma alone. President Zuma is a South African. He has his own rights,” Magashule said Wednesday when asked by the press about Zuma saying he will defy the commission and the Constitutional Court.
Zuma already faces a criminal charge for failing to testify at a commission hearing last month and further action will be taken against Zuma if he fails to honor a scheduled appearance this month, according to Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, who chairs the commission.
“It seems that Mr. Zuma considers himself to be above the law and the Constitution. The commission reiterates that in terms of the Constitution everyone is equal before the law,” Zondo said in a statement, issued this week.
Zuma is a central figure in allegations of widespread corruption when he was president from 2009 to 2018, when his governing African National Congress party forced him to step down because of growing allegations of graft.
He is accused of allowing members of the controversial Gupta family to influence his Cabinet appointments and lucrative state contracts.
Zuma has been implicated in at least 36 affidavits before the commission by individuals, including former ministers in his Cabinet.
Witnesses from the country’s intelligence agency, the State Security Agency, last week testified that its resources were abused to serve Zuma’s personal political interests throughout that period.
Zondo warned Zuma of further action against him if he refuses to abide by an order of the Constitutional Court to testify at the commission.
“Should Mr. Zuma carry out his decision not to appear before the commission on 15 February 2021 and, therefore, act in breach of the summons and in contempt of the order of the Constitutional Court, the commission will announce on that day what further action it will take,” said Zondo.
The warning came after Zuma issued a strongly-worded media statement in which he accused the commission of being biased against him and stated his intention not to appear before it.
“I am being singled out for different and special treatment by the judiciary and the legal system as a whole," said Zuma.
“I, therefore, state in advance that the Commission Into Allegations of State Capture can expect no further cooperation from me in any of their processes going forward,” said Zuma, saying he said he was willing to be jailed for his defiance.
“If this stance is considered to be a violation of their law, then let their law take its course," wrote Zuma. "I do not fear being arrested, I do not fear being convicted nor do I fear being incarcerated.”
The commission will have to be firm in its action against Zuma to preserve its legitimacy, according to political analyst Miyelani Mkhabela.
“It appears that his strategy is to cast doubt on the integrity of the commission and if he is allowed to get away with it, other potential witnesses and people facing allegations will follow suit," said Mkhabela.
“As a former head of state, there will be serious consequences for the integrity of the Constitution if he is simply allowed to defy an order of the highest court in the country,” said Mkhabela.