Black First Land First (BLF) – vocal proponents of former president Jacob Zuma, his son Duduzane and the Gupta brothers – has called on the chair of the judicial commission of inquiry into state capture, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, to be fair, impartial “and not play to the political gallery”.
Following Zondo’s ruling granting the younger Zuma permission to cross-examine former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas and dismissing the Gupta brothers’ application to interrogate witnesses, the BLF said in a statement on Friday that the commission was “showing early signs of bias and inconsistencies”.
Zondo made the ruling on the applications by Zuma and the Guptas on Thursday, where he commended Duduzane for reconsidering his decision to not appear before the inquiry.
The commission’s chair further ruled that Ajay and Rajesh Gupta would probably be granted permission to cross-examine witnesses if they physically and personally appeared before the commission within South African borders.
Zondo dismissed suggestions by the Guptas that either the commission should travel to a location outside of South Africa so they could testify or that they be allowed to participate via video link.
The brothers alleged that the Hawks and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) were incompetent and that the agencies would most likely abuse their powers by arresting the Guptas and pursuing criminal charges against them.
The BLF said Zondo’s decision “to deny the Guptas the right to cross-examine witnesses via video link is not reasonable or consistent”.
“The participation of the Gupta brothers in the [judicial commission of inquiry] is critical in helping the nation to get a full picture of the allegations. The denial of the brothers of this right has the impact of shielding witnesses who lied before the [commission],” the organisation said.
Handing down his ruling, Zondo stated that it would be fair to grant Ajay Gupta an opportunity to appear before the commission because he had been seriously implicated by witnesses who had already testified.
“Judge Zondo has already accepted the argument of Mcebisi Jonas that he didn’t trust the South African law enforcement agencies. The Guptas have only echoed this claim, which has been heard and not challenged by the [commission]. Why is it okay for Jonas to make such a claim but not good enough when the Guptas make a similar claim?” the organisation questioned.
During his testimony, Jonas had said he saw no point in reporting to the police the meeting where one of the Gupta brothers allegedly offered him a R600 million bribe, as he believed the SAPS and its elite unit the Hawks had been “seriously compromised”.
“The second and glaring inconsistency shown by Judge Zondo is his refusal to grant the Guptas permission for cross-examination by video link. Judge Zondo has already established a precedent by allowing the so-called ‘state capture’ experts to testify via video link. Again the question arises – why the double standards when it is in relation to the Guptas?” the BLF further questioned.
The organisation called on Zondo to review his decision so that the Guptas could be given an opportunity to state their side of the story “and the nation can have the opportunity to make up its mind on an informed basis”.
“Zondo is not presiding over a trial. In the event of his recommendations having criminal implications for witnesses then other mechanisms, including the law enforcement agencies and extradition treaties, will come into force.”