A South African corruption inquiry will issue a summons for former President Jacob Zuma to appear to give evidence next month, the judge chairing the proceedings has said.
Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo said on Friday that Zuma would be required to appear from November 16 to 20, adding that this could be via video link if appropriate arrangements were made.
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“The secretary of the commission is hereby authorised and directed to sign and issue a summons … requiring Mr Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma, former president of the Republic of South Africa, to appear,” Zondo said.
Zuma, who became president in 2009, was forced to resign in February 2018 over corruption scandals centred around an Indian business family, the Guptas, who won lucrative contracts with state companies and were allegedly even able to choose cabinet ministers.
Chaired by deputy chief justice Zondo, the commission was set up in 2018 to hear testimony from ministers, ex-ministers, government officials and business executives on alleged corruption during Zuma’s tenure.
So far at least 34 witnesses have directly and indirectly implicated Zuma in corruption allegations, according to the commission’s advocate Paul Pretorius.
“It is important for Mr Zuma to appear before the commission as most of the corruption alleged took place when he was the country’s president,” Pretorius said.
Zuma appeared at the inquiry in July 2019 but has declined to return and now says Zondo is biased against him and wants to publicly humiliate him. He has denied that he broke the law with the Guptas.
The Guptas have refuted allegations of wrongdoing. They left South Africa around the time Zuma was removed from power.
Zuma has previously said through his lawyers that he was unable to attend the inquiry. His reasons have included that he was preparing for a criminal trial and that his doctors had advised him to limit his movements during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Zuma said through his lawyers last month that he would apply for Zondo’s recusal.
“I am giving him an opportunity to come here and clear his name,” Zondo said, adding that failure to comply was tantamount to “a criminal offence” as the commission’s statutory powers are equivalent to that of a high court.
Dozens of Zuma supporters wearing military uniforms and T-shirts with Zuma’s portrait chanted “Leave Zuma alone” as they picketed outside the commission’s offices in Johannesburg.
They called on Zondo to recuse himself, accusing him of being anti-Zuma.
Zuma’s successor President Cyril Ramaphosa has promised to tackle corruption in South Africa, which has been led by the African National Congress (ANC) since Nelson Mandela came to power in 1994 after the end of apartheid.
Several ANC members are being investigated for past corruption and more recent cases of alleged wrongdoing, including involving the procurement of coronavirus supplies in Africa’s worst-hit country.