Former South African President Jacob Zuma will be questioned at a public inquiry into state graft on Monday, a dramatic fall from grace for a politician who has cast a long shadow over the country’s politics for the past decade.
Jacob Zuma was ousted by the governing African National Congress (ANC) in February 2018.
He will be asked to respond to allegations that he allowed cronies to plunder state resources and influence senior government appointments during his nine years in power.
He has consistently denied wrongdoing, saying the allegations against him are politically motivated. His lawyer said in a letter to the inquiry last month that Zuma believed it was prejudiced against him.
Zuma is expected to give evidence from Monday to Friday, testimony that will be broadcast live on South African television to millions of viewers.
It is a rare example of an African leader being brought to book soon after losing power.
Zuma, 77, has also been in court on several occasions over the past year to answer corruption charges linked to a deal to buy military hardware for the armed forces in the 1990s.
He set up the corruption inquiry in his final weeks in office under pressure from rivals in the ANC, including his successor, Cyril Ramaphosa, who feared scandals surrounding Zuma could tarnish the party’s reputation indelibly.
Zuma had avoided establishing the inquiry since a 2016 report by the country’s anti-corruption watchdog, the public protector.
The public protector instructed him to do so to investigate allegations that three Gupta brothers had been able to influence ministerial appointments, and had won state contracts improperly.
The Gupta family, business friends of Zuma, denied the accusations and left South Africa around the time that Zuma was ousted.
Ramaphosa, Zuma’s former deputy, has made sweeping personnel changes in government and state-owned companies as part of an effort to curb corruption, and revive the stagnant economy.
However, he has been hampered by the lingering influence that Zuma and his allies exert over the ANC’s top decision-making bodies, as well as by the scale of the problems he inherited.
The inquiry, headed by South Africa’s Deputy Chief Justice, Raymond Zondo, held its first hearing in August and is due to finish next year.
Jacob Zuma responds
Former South African president Jacob Zuma told a corruption inquiry on Monday that there was a conspiracy against him and that his enemies had subjected him to a “character assassination” because they wanted him out of power.
“This commission, from my understanding, was really created to have me coming here, and perhaps to find things on me,” Zuma said in his opening remarks at the inquiry.
“There has been a drive to remove me from the scene, a wish that I should disappear.”
Jacob Zuma told a corruption inquiry that he had never broken the law with the Gupta family, describing the businessmen at the center of an influence-peddling scandal as friends.
Zuma also said he was the victim of a conspiracy by enemies who had tried to get rid of him for more than 20 years.
Referring to the three Gupta brothers, Zuma said, “I never did anything with them unlawfully, they just remained friends. … Never, never did I discuss any matter that does not belong to them”.
“They were businesspeople and successful businesspeople,” Zuma continued. “I’m not a businessperson, I know nothing about business, I’m a politician, I know something about politics.”