Zuma told to set up state capture inquiry by court


South Africa’s High Court ruled President Jacob Zuma must set up a judicial inquiry into state influence-peddling within 30 days, the latest in a series of judicial blows to his scandal-tinged administration.

Upholding a recommendation by South Africa’s corruption-fighting Public Protector, High Court Judge President Dunstan Mlambo said an application by Zuma challenging the inquiry was “ill-advised and reckless” and an abuse of the judicial process.

The ruling comes days after the same court dealt a rebuke to Zuma ruling his appointment of a state prosecutor to decide whether to reinstate corruption charges against him was not valid and should be set aside immediately.

Zuma challenged the right of the Public Protector to call for a judicial inquiry and the appointment by the chief justice of a judge to head it, saying it was the president’s prerogative to set up such an inquiry.

It was not immediately clear if Zuma would appeal against the ruling and his spokesman was not immediately available to comment.

The 75-year-old president faced and denied numerous corruption allegations since taking office in 2009 and survived several votes of no-confidence in parliament.

In October, the Supreme Court of Appeal upheld an earlier High Court decision reinstating nearly 800 corruption charges relating to an arms deal filed against Zuma but shelved before he ran for president in 2009.

The revival of the charges could increase pressure on Zuma to step down before his term ends in 2019.

Several judicial setbacks have undermined Zuma’s authority and some analysts say it could diminish his influence over who succeeds him when the ruling African National Congress (ANC) chooses a new leader this month.

Political instability, including questions over who will replace Zuma has been cited by credit rating agencies as a major factor behind a decision to cut South Africa to “junk”.

Africa’s most industrialised economy has grown lethargically over the last six years and the jobless rate stands near record levels. Analysts say the political crisis is making it hard to reform the economy, improve social services and fight crime.

The influence-peddling inquiry was recommended in a report released a year ago by the Public Protector, whose job is to uphold standards in public life.

Zuma sought to block the release of the report, entitled “State of Capture”, which focused on allegations that Zuma’s friends, the businessmen and brothers Ajay, Atul and Rajesh Gupta, influenced the appointment of ministers. Zuma and the Guptas deny all accusations of wrongdoing.

Ordering Zuma to pay the costs of the latest court challenge, Judge President Mlambo said the South African leader’s conduct was “clearly objectionable … and amounts to clear abuse of the judicial process”.

A judicial commission was best suited to investigate the allegations against Zuma, Mlambo said, adding: “The allegations … detailed in the report are extremely serious.”

The court ordered once the inquiry is set up, it should complete its task and present its report to Zuma within 180 days. The president would then have to inform parliament within 14 days of what action he planned to take based on the inquiry’s findings, the court said.

In a statement, the ANC — some of whose lawmakers are critical of Zuma — said a judicial inquiry was crucial in verifying the allegations in the watchdog’s report.
“We trust President Jacob Zuma will implement this judgment without delay in the interest of our country,” it said.

Opposition leader Mmusi Maimane, who was at court, welcomed the ruling.
“The judgment lays out a timeline … we hope to get to the bottom of this,” Maimane said, adding his party would oppose any appeal should Zuma launch one.

Thuli Madonsela, the report’s author, who was also at court, said: “An allegation that the state has been captured in the interests of the president and his friends is an allegation that needs to be investigated immediately.”

Her 355-page report stopped short of asserting crimes had been committed, saying the watchdog lacked the resources to reach such conclusions and they should be investigated by a judicial inquiry.

Zuma will appeal the High Court’s ruling that his appointment of a state prosecutor was not valid and that Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa should instead appoint a new public prosecutor within 60 days.