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Zuma Risks Arrest After Defying South Africa Corruption Inquiry

CAPE TOWN, South Africa — Jacob Zuma, the previous president of South Africa whose practically decade-long tenure was tainted by breathtaking corruption scandals, refused to seem earlier than an inquiry panel Monday, elevating the likelihood that he could be imprisoned for contempt.

The panel’s chief, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, stated he was looking for an order from the Constitutional Courtroom, the nation’s highest court docket, that might “impose a term of imprisonment on Mr. Zuma.”

Justice Zondo’s transfer catapulted the simmering theme of corruption throughout Mr. Zuma’s time period, which lasted from 2009 to 2018, right into a tense showdown over the accountability of the previous president. His successor, Cyril Ramaphosa, has promised to purge the governing African Nationwide Congress of endemic issues of bribery and graft which have severely broken its credibility in South Africa, one of many continent’s most essential financial powerhouses.

Mr. Zuma, 78, had been set to seem earlier than the inquiry panel, the Fee on State Seize, beginning Monday for every week of testimony about his position within the corruption. The previous president despatched a letter from his legal professionals as a substitute, arguing that he was not legally certain to seem.

It was Mr. Zuma who instituted the inquiry in 2018 after a report detailing the extent of corruption in state-owned corporations and authorities departments throughout his administration. In its far-reaching mandate, the fee has interrogated greater than 250 witnesses.

Mr. Zuma is the primary to refuse, demanding that Justice Zondo recuse himself. Mr. Zuma has accused the justice of harboring a private vendetta in opposition to him and has pointed to a distant household relation. In uncharacteristic frustration, Justice Zondo rejected these claims.

“I’ve just completed 24 years of service on the bench as a judge and many litigants have come and gone and have appeared before me, literally thousands in trials, motion court and appeals and only Mr. Zuma, out of all of these, has asked me to recuse myself,” he stated.

It was not instantly clear when the Constitutional Courtroom would determine on Mr. Zondo’s request that Mr. Zuma be punished with imprisonment. Mr. Zuma, who has denied any wrongdoing, retains appreciable assist inside the nation, and the prospect that he may very well be arrested and imprisoned raised the danger of protests by his sympathizers.

Ought to the Constitutional Courtroom discover Mr. Zuma’s conduct doesn’t warrant punishment, it might encourage different witnesses to defy the corruption inquiry and undermine its goal.

Mr. Ramaphosa, previously Mr. Zuma’s deputy, gained the A.N.C. management in 2017 after a bruising inside battle. Quickly afterward, he pressured Mr. Zuma to step down as president, a humiliating defeat that Mr. Zuma has not forgiven.

Mr. Ramaphosa’s vow to root out corruption and patronage inside the A.N.C. has confronted robust resistance from a rival faction inside the celebration. The A.N.C. has dominated South African politics because the finish of the apartheid period.

Within the letter from his legal professionals, Mr. Zuma argued that he didn’t have to seem earlier than the corruption panel as a result of his request that Justice Zondo recuse himself was nonetheless below evaluate. Mr. Zuma had first raised this concern when strolling out of a corruption panel listening to in November, refusing to testify earlier than Justice Zondo.

However the Constitutional Courtroom, in a ruling final month, stated Mr. Zuma was nonetheless required to seem and provides proof.

In anticipation of an arrest warrant for Mr. Zuma, dozens of veterans from the A.N.C.’s former armed wing, uMkhonto weSizwe, camped across the former president’s homestead in Nkandla, in rural KwaZulu-Natal province about 300 miles southeast of Johannesburg. The veterans advised the South African Broadcasting Company that they might stay till the top of the week to stop the police from taking Mr. Zuma into custody. They have been joined by supporters of Mr. Zuma, who sang and chanted their fealty to him.

Mr. Zuma’s stance has threatened to polarize not simply factions inside the A.N.C. however the nation, some members of the celebration stated.

“If he gets arrested, it’s perfectly clear that society will be divided into two groups,” stated Mdumiseni Ntuli, the celebration’s secretary in KwaZulu-Natal. Mr. Ntuli and different members of the provincial management met with Mr. Zuma over the weekend to attempt to persuade him to stick to the legislation, Mr. Ntuli advised the South African Broadcasting Company.

“The implications to the unity and the cohesion of the A.N.C. are going to be very profound,” Mr. Ntuli stated of the attainable arrest.

That the A.N.C. couldn’t power Mr. Zuma to abide by the legislation is an indication of the celebration’s lack of ability to carry its senior management accountable, stated Prof. Susan Booysen on the College of the Witwatersrand.

“It really shows up so many weaknesses of the A.N.C.,” she stated. “The A.N.C. could not put its foot down and say, ‘You will appear.’”

Ms. Booysen, who’s the writer of a latest e-book, “Precarious Power: Compliance and discontent under Ramaphosa’s A.N.C.,” additionally stated it was clear that the governing celebration was now not a singular motion however “an alliance of many different identities, political factions and financial interests held together by its compulsion to hold on to power, make money and the legacy of being seen as a liberation movement.”

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