Former South African President Jacob Zuma’s decision to oppose a court testimony to testify during an investigation into his involvement in public sector corruption has put the country on the verge of a political crisis that grieves the ruling African National Congress (ANC) could damage.
The subject is to be discussed by the ANC at a meeting of its national executive committee on Saturday.
Zuma has refused to obey a Constitutional Court ruling that forced him to answer questions from the Commission of Inquiry into State Detention and Corruption. In a statement earlier this month, he said he was ready to go to jail as a result.
“I am not afraid of being arrested. I am not afraid of conviction or imprisonment. . . [the inquiry] I can’t expect any further cooperation from me, ”Zuma said after the country’s highest court ruled on January 28 that he should testify.
The investigation has since warned Zuma that he will face serious consequences if he fails to take the stand on February 15, the day of his next scheduled appearance. The former president could face a six-month sentence, a fine, or both for refusing to respond to the latest subpoena of the investigation.
Zuma’s stance has also rocked the ANC, exacerbating factional struggles that have plagued the ruling party since current South African President Cyril Ramaphosa won his leadership race in December 2017.
The then vice-president of the ANC narrowly beat Zuma’s preferred successor, his ex-wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, because he had promised to take decisive action against the pervasive corruption in the party and government.
As a result, Zuma’s refusal to obey the courts is increasingly viewed by political analysts and the public as a test of whether Ramaphosa can deliver on his election promises and protect the laws governing post-apartheid democracy in South Africa.
The ANC provincial structure in the Eastern Cape has called for Zuma’s suspension from the former liberation movement for refusing to participate in the investigation, while the leaders of KwaZulu-Natal and the wing of military veterans have joined forces in his defense, claiming that the decision of the Court violates the former president’s rights.
ANC General Secretary Ace Magashule also publicly defended Zuma last week, calling on his party critics to “leave him alone”.
Political observers believe that if Zuma complies with his threat to halt the investigation, he could be expelled from the ANC, a development which, given the tensions, could lead to a damaging split in the movement.
Last Friday, Ramaphosa urged his predecessor to reconsider his position in an effort to calm tensions before the ANC’s top decision-making body meets this weekend. “There are issues that he has to consider in his own time,” said Ramaphosa. “Let’s give former President Zuma time to think about it.”
Zuma, 78, was invited to attend the meeting of the National Executive Committee on Saturday, which, according to party officials, will discuss his rejection of the Constitutional Court. The former president’s relationship with the Johannesburg-based corruption investigation reached a breaking point last November after he failed to get his presiding judge Raymond Zondo to apologize on the grounds that he was biased against the former president.
When Zuma subsequently dropped out of the investigation, the judges asked the Constitutional Court to force the former president to follow his subpoena to appear on the stand.
Right to silence
Zuma, who was removed from the South African presidency by the ANC in 2018 for alleged transplantation, faces numerous corruption-related issues that are accompanied by evidence in at least 36 affidavits submitted to the investigation.
The former president has been charged with crimes ranging from letting members of the controversial Gupta business family influence the appointment of government officials and lucrative state contracts, to setting up a parallel spy network at the State Security Agency to investigate his alleged corrupt activities undermine.
Zuma’s lawyers have already argued during the investigation that their client has a right to silence under the law.
However, the Constitutional Court found that Zuma did not enjoy such a privilege under the circumstances, saying it was “available to arrested and accused persons, and not to witnesses”.
The Institute of Security Studies’ political analyst Gareth Newham said he believed Zuma refused to participate in the investigation in the hope that the ANC would “protect him at all costs to ensure party unity”.
“This is a key moment for South Africa and the ANC. If the party cannot deal with Zuma and other high-ranking members accused of corruption at this point, it will suffer badly in the next election, ”he said.