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South Africa: Zuma agrees to cooperate with inquiry after threatening to withdraw

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South Africa: Zuma agrees to cooperate with inquiry after threatening to withdraw
South Africa: Zuma agrees to cooperate with inquiry after threatening to withdraw. picture-alliance/dpa/AP Photo/N. Bothma
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"Chair, we are here today to say we will take no further part in these proceedings," Jacob Zuma's lawyer Muzi Sikhakhane had told the inquiry commission at the start of the inquiry on Friday, July 19. Zuma's lawyers argued that the former president had been treated as an accused person and not as somebody giving a testimony.

The former South African president who was forced to step back by his own party in February 2018, appeared in front of the commission on Monday, July 15, 2019. On Wednesday, his legal team had asked for an adjournment of the inquiry, complaining that the commission's legal team had unfairly cross-examined the former president.

The commission's legal team and Zuma's lawyers eventually came to an agreement that Zuma could submit his answers to the commission's questions in writing, rather than being questioned verbally. The commission was initially created by Zuma who had come under pressure after an investigation by South Africa's former public protector into the graft case.

Also on Friday, South Africa's public protector, Busisiwe Mkhwebane, announced findings on a separate investigation into money that was used to fund President Cyril Ramaphosa's campaign to become Zuma's successor as head of the African National Congress (ANC) in 2017. Ramaphosa had previously denied allegations that Bosasa, a company that provided services to the government, had donated money to his campaign. He later admitted to parliament that the money was donated to his campaign through a payment to his son. The public protector noted that "although President Ramaphosa may have justified to correct the earlier statement on erroneous or incomplete information at his disposal, he indeed misled parliament."

Read more: South Africa: Where power corrupts and corruption empowers

Commission: Zuma given opportunity to tell his story

Commission chair, deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo, had initially expressed his surprise over Zuma's intention to pull out of the proceedings. He noted that he had personally requested for Zuma to appear before the commission in order to give the former president the opportunity to present his side of the story, and in order for the commission to question him.

Zondo clarified that all the statements of the nine witnesses were seen by Zuma and his team prior to Zuma's testimony. Witnesses included the current minister of public enterprises, Pravin Gordhan, former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene, Angelo Agrizzi the former boss of Bosasa, which according to Agrizzi paid bribes to the government. The questions, Zondo noted, were all derived from the witness statements and Zuma's own testimony.

Read more: Opinion: South Africa's new government - compromise over renewal

Zuma: 'There is a drive to remove me'

During his lengthy testimony, Zuma alleged that he had been the target of political plotting since the early 1990s. "There has been a drive to remove me from the scene, a wish that I should disappear," he said. He alleged that he had first heard of the plot to remove him from his position in the ANC during the apartheid years when he headed the ANC's intelligence agency.

"I have been vilified and alleged to be the king of corruption," Zuma told the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture on Monday morning.

According to witness statements, Zuma was involved in allowing a prominent business family, the Guptas, to influence government appointments and policies while he was president.

Zuma's son Duduzane Zuma, who formerly directed six Gupta firms, was accused of corruption and conspiracy to commit corruption over his dealings with the Guptas. In January 2019, prosecutors withdrew the charges against him pending further evidence.

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