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S.Africa anti-graft panel to seek jail time for Zuma over snub

The chair of a South African judicial panel investigating mass state corruption said Monday he would seek jail time for former president Jacob Zuma after he failed to appear before the commission.

The 78-year-old Zuma, who has repeatedly snubbed the commission probing graft during his nine-year tenure, refused to comply with a Constitutional Court order for him to appear on Monday.

“The commission will approach the Constitutional Court and ask it to impose a term of imprisonment on Mr Zuma if it finds that he is guilty of contempt of court,” said Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo.

The ex-president has long accused the commission of bias and demanded that Zondo recuse himself.

In a 12-page statement on Monday night, Zuma accused Zondo of “political propaganda” against him.

“His conduct today fortifies my resolve and belief that he has always sought to prejudice me,” said Zuma.

-‘Political propaganda’ –

Accusing some judges of being “lawless” Zuma said he was sure Zondo’s wish to have him sentenced for contempt of court would be granted.

“Of course, he will get it,” he said.

Zuma’s lawyers said in a letter earlier on Monday that he would not be appearing before the commission, which had set aside February 15 to 19 for his testimony.

Zuma, who had approached the High Court to examine Zondo’s refusal to step aside, argued that appearing before Zondo would “undermine and invalidate the review application”.

In the two-page “matter of courtesy” letter, Zuma’s lawyers concluded that his refusal to testify should not be “construed to suggest any defiance of a legal process”.

But the commission’s advocate Paul Pretorius said it was in the public interest for Zuma to testify because he was president at the time of the alleged state corruption.

Zuma has been implicated in evidence from some 40 witnesses, to which he was expected to respond.

“Mr Zuma perhaps more than anyone else is able to assist the commission in understanding what happened in the period under review,” Pretorius said.

“It’s difficult to understand why he would need to rely on a right to silence.”

– ‘Counter-revolution’ –

Zuma’s refusal came a day after the ruling African National Congress (ANC) stressed the need for all members to cooperate with the commission.

“To allow anything else would lead to anarchy and open the floodgates easily for counter-revolution,” the ANC said in a statement on Sunday.

Meanwhile local media showed images of dozens of people, some wearing military regalia and ANC party gear, staging a vigil in support of Zuma outside his rural homestead in Nkandla in southern Kwa-Zulu Natal province

The group chanted and performed the “toyi-toyi” dance, a protest move synonymous with the struggle against apartheid.

Zuma, who came to power in 2009, was forced to resign in 2018 over graft scandals involving an Indian business family, the Guptas, who won lucrative contracts with state companies and were allegedly even able to choose cabinet ministers.

He set up the commission shortly before he left power and only testified before it once in July 2019, but staged a walkout days later.