Zondo commission adjourns after Zuma claims it’s unfair

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A South African judge adjourned until Friday a public inquiry into state corruption, after lawyers for former president Jacob Zuma said he was being questioned unfairly.

The inquiry into allegations that Zuma, ousted by the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party in February 2018, allowed cronies to plunder state resources and influence senior appointments during his nine years in power.

Zuma’s lawyers argued the inquiry’s lawyers should not cross-examine the former president because they say evidence given by other witnesses does not directly implicate Zuma in corruption and fraud.

“Chair I hear you, and I appreciate what you’re saying, but I’m really being cross-examined thoroughly on the details. And I don’t know how come,” Zuma told inquiry chairman, deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo.

Zuma (77) has long denied any wrongdoing.

Zuma’s lawyers told Zondo the former president, testifying since Monday, was been brought to the inquiry under “false pretences” because he was being cross-examined. He thought he would only have to answer straightforward points of clarity.

“The former president expressed certain concerns,” Zondo said. “It has been decided we should adjourn the proceedings for the day and should not sit tomorrow to give a full opportunity to the commission’s legal team and the former president’s legal team to see whether a way can be found in which Zuma’s concerns are addressed.”

Zuma has so far ducked and dived at the inquiry, which he agreed to set up during his final weeks in office.

On Tuesday he could not recall details surrounding an incident where business friends the Guptas allegedly offered a former lawmaker a ministerial position.

On Monday the former president, who still enjoys significant support in rural areas and his home province of KwaZulu-Natal, said he was the victim of a decades-old plot by enemies at home and abroad to get rid of him.

Analysts say efforts by Zuma’s successor, Cyril Ramaphosa, to clean up politics could be hurt if the inquiry fails to pin down a case against Zuma.

TRANSNET APPOINTMENT

Also on Wednesday, Zuma denied interfering with the appointment of a chief executive at transport and infrastructure company Transnet.

Transnet, which operates railways, ports and fuel pipelines, is one of the state-owned firms embroiled in corruption scandals during Zuma’s tenure.

Former public enterprises minister Barbara Hogan told the inquiry Zuma told her in 2009 Siyabonga Gama was his “only choice” to be CEO of Transnet.

Gama was at the time subject to disciplinary proceedings because of procurement irregularities. Hogan said Transnet’s board of directors wanted to appoint another candidate better qualified for the job.

Asked whether he told Hogan Gama was his only choice, Zuma told the inquiry: “It couldn’t be like that, we don’t work like that. As I say there was a process. … I would have been undermining the process.”

Gama eventually became Transnet CEO in 2015 and was involved in allegedly corrupt contracts worth tens of billions of rands to procure locomotives.

Gama, fired last year after trying unsuccessfully to halt his removal, was not available for comment. He denied the allegations against him.

A Gupta-linked firm earned huge consulting fees from Transnet while Gama was in charge.

The Guptas, who left South Africa around the time Zuma was ousted, consistently denied having looted state firms like Transnet.

Transnet sought to recover via the courts money it says was misspent under Gama’s leadership.

State prosecutors are following the corruption inquiry and could open cases if sufficient evidence of wrongdoing emerges.