The greatest political chess player in South Africa might be about to pull a 3D move on us all. It was revealed on Thursday that Jacob Zuma is still battling with health issues, as Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo continues desperately to reel in the big fish that previously got away from the State Capture Inquiry.
Zuma caused haddock (sorry, havoc – we’ll stop with these fish metaphors) during his last visit to the Zondo Commission in July. He stopped giving testimony once he faced a difficult question about his interference with South Africa’s SOEs. He claimed he was being badgered by the prosecution, and walked away from the panel.
However, in a seemingly sporting gesture, JZ agreed to return to the hot-seat on two separate occasions. Within weeks of both scheduled appearances, he pulled out just weeks before his apparent dates with destiny. Zuma was meant to face-off with Zondo’s lawyers this month, but blamed illness on his no-shows.
The cynics have been suggesting that this merely follows a predictable pattern of behaviour Jacob Zuma usually exhibits whenever he’s facing legal trouble. His “Stalingrad” tactics – where he and his legal counsel do whatever they can to stall or delay proceedings – are believed to be on show here. But there could be another motivation that’s keeping Msholozi on his alleged sick bed.
Zuma’s representatives say he won’t be well enough to face the State Capture Inquiry until March. Which is interesting, considering that the Zondo Commission only has permission to run until the end of February. It was only today that the DJC filed an application to extend the investigation until the end of 2020.
For any football fans reading this, it’s the judicial equivalent of a team sitting on a one-goal lead and keeping the ball in the corner for the last five minutes…
They are doing whatever they can to ensure Zuma doesn’t face Zondo unless it is absolutely necessary. Although the commission is likely to be granted an extension, there are also no guarantees in place. It was meant to last for just six months. February 2020 will be its 18th.
There’s nothing stopping the courts from deciding that the plug must be pulled on a probe that has lasted three times longer than expected.
Raymond Zondo himself has also faced criticism for going “too easy” on Jacob Zuma, and allowing him to dictate the terms of the State Capture Inquiry. His team have also got it in the neck for failing to prosecute any suspects named in the investigation since it began in August 2018.
The DCJ is also wary that his commission could run out of time, telling the media he “does not take the attitude that the court will grant us the extension just because we have asked for it”.
If the SCI does shut down before they have another chance to square-up Jacob Zuma, it will be one of the former president’s greatest escapes. Even accounting for the vast swathes of testimony against him, this would ultimately be JZ’s preferred outcome.