Former South Africa president Jacob Zuma yesterday said that he had been “vilified,” as he testified at a judicial inquiry into the alleged looting of state funds while he was in power.
“I have been vilified, alleged to be the king of corrupt people,” he told the inquiry. “I have been given every other name and I have never responded to those issues. I believe it is important that we respect one another.”
Zuma had struck a characteristically relaxed tone ahead of his televised appearance, which could last for five days, tweeting a video on Sunday of himself dancing and singing “Zuma must fall” before laughing heartily.
The former president is accused of fostering a culture of corruption during nine years in office before he was ousted last year by the ruling African National Party (ANC) and replaced by Cyril Ramaphosa.
Zuma, 77, was not legally required to appear at the inquiry into the so-called “state capture” scandal. State capture describes a form of corruption in which businesses and politicians conspired to influence policies to advance their own interests.
He denies all wrongdoing and dismissed the concept of “state capture,” while his lawyers have described the inquiry as an attempt to “ambush and humiliate” him.
Zuma, who addressed the commission at the start of the day, said that he had been the victim of “character assassination over 20 years.”
His request to see questions in advance was denied by the inquiry commission, which had invited him to appear “to give his side of the story” after other witnesses gave damning evidence against him.
Led by judge Raymond Zondo, the probe is investigating a web of deals involving government officials, the wealthy Gupta family and state-owned companies.
“The commission is not mandated to prove any case against anybody but is mandated to investigate and inquire into certain allegations,” Zondo said, thanking Zuma for appearing.
Before Zuma spoke, his lawyer Muzi Sikhakhane told the commission: “The propaganda machine out there has been quite alive. The former president established this commission and is willing to cooperate.”
According to Angelo Agrizzi, one of the inquiry witness, Zuma allegedly accepted a monthly US$2,200 bribe delivered in luxury bags from a contracting firm that was trying to evade police investigation. The money was in theory for his charity foundation.
Agrizzi said his company also organized free parties, bulk alcohol supplies and birthday cakes to stay in favor with Zuma’s associates.
Former South African minister of finance Nhlanhla Nene, who was sacked by Zuma in 2015, testified that Zuma pushed policies on nuclear power and aviation that were designed to benefit the Gupta family.
The Gupta brothers are accused of fraudulently profiting from government contracts under Zuma.
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