South Africa’s top court on Thursday ordered ex-president Jacob Zuma to appear before a judicial panel probing alleged graft during his nine-year tenure, ruling he had no right to remain silent during the proceedings.
Zuma is accused of enabling runaway looting of state assets during his time in office, which ended when he was forced out in February 2018.
The 78-year-old former leader has snubbed summonses by the commission, which is chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo.
He first said the commission was treating him as an “accused” rather than a witness and then contended bias and demanded that Zondo recuse himself.
He only gave testimony to the commission once, in July 2019, but staged a walkout days later. Since then, Zuma has not testified again, citing health concerns or his preparation for another corruption case related to a 1990s arms deal.
In a case filed by the commission, the Constitutional Court on Thursday ruled Zuma’s action amounted to “a direct breach of the law” and that he had to appear and testify before the panel on the dates set by it.
“In our system, no-one is above the law… Jacob Zuma does not have rights to remain silent in proceeding before the commission,” ruled Justice Chris Jafta.
Jafta said the commission was set up in 2018 during Zuma’s presidency and it was, therefore “unacceptable that he is the one that frustrates its investigation.”
He added that Zuma was entitled to privileges against self-incrimination and had to demonstrate “how the answer to a specific question would breach the privilege.”
The findings of the anti-corruption commission will not lead directly to indictments but may be transmitted to the prosecution for possible prosecution.
The commission was originally scheduled to sit until March but must request an extension due to the delay caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
It has already heard from dozens of ministers or ex-ministers, elected officials, businessmen, or senior officials of whom some have indirectly implicated Zuma.
In the latest summons, Zuma had been called to testify from January 18-22 and again from February 15-19.