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South Africa’s former president Jacob Zuma pulls out of corruption inquiry

Media captionJacob Zuma: I have been vilified

Former South African president Jacob Zuma has pulled out of a corruption inquiry, according to his lawyer.

Muzi Sikhakhane said Mr Zuma was subjected to “relentless cross-examination” and would “take no further part” in the proceedings.

The judge-led inquiry is investigating allegations that Mr Zuma oversaw a web of corruption during his term in office. He began testifying on Monday.

The 77-year-old was forced to resign as president in February 2018.

He was replaced by his then-deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, who promised to tackle corruption in South Africa. Mr Ramaphosa described Mr Zuma’s nine years in office as “wasted”.

The lawyer, Mr Sikhakhane told the inquiry commission in Johannesburg: “Our client from the beginning… has been treated as someone who was accused.”

He criticised the investigation, led by Judge Raymond Zondo, alleging that it was a “political process where the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing”.

Mr Zuma had been due to give a final day of testimony on Friday but the inquiry has now been adjourned.

“I expected that he would cooperate,” Judge Zondo said following Mr Zuma’s withdrawal. “The first purpose was to give him an opportunity to tell his side of his story.”

What is Mr Zuma accused of?

The allegations against Mr Zuma focus on his relationship with the controversial Gupta family, which has been accused of influencing cabinet appointments and winning lucrative state tenders through corruption.

He has also been accused of taking bribes from the logistics firm Bosasa, which is run by the Watson family. All the parties deny allegations of wrongdoing.

The scandal is widely referred to as “state capture” – shorthand for a form of corruption in which businesses and politicians commandeer state assets to advance their own interests.

On Monday, Mr Zuma gave a lengthy address in which he claimed the corruption allegations were a “conspiracy” aimed at removing him from the political scene.

“I have been vilified, alleged to be the king of corrupt people,” he said.

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Supporters of Mr Zuma danced after he announced that he would no longer take part in the inquiry

He implied that the UK and US had been – and still were – part of an elaborate plot to discredit him, even as he tried to bring about political and economic change in South Africa.

Mr Zuma also said other foreign agents had tried to poison him, without naming them or offering any proof.

“I never did anything with them unlawfully,” he said of the Gupta family. “They just remained friends, as they were friends to everybody else.”

He also objected to allegations that he had allowed the state to be “captured” by the family. “Did I auction Table Mountain? Did I auction Johannesburg?” he asked.

On Tuesday, the former president said he had received death threats following his testimony.

Judge can turn up the heat

Analysis by Milton Nkosi, BBC News, Johannesburg

The abrupt announcement that Mr Zuma was withdrawing from the inquiry came as no surprise. He contributed very little in his answers to questions about specific allegations of corruption. His responses from the witness box were repetitive: I cannot remember; I have no recollection; I have no comment.

Hundreds of his supporters sang and chanted outside the venue while he was inside, but some say Mr Zuma is uncomfortable in a legal setting such as this inquiry – in which he cannot dictate the terms as he has been able to do outside.

For now, he has withdrawn himself from the inquiry, but the judge has the option to summon him to appear – forcing him to show up. It is a route that, so far, the judge has seemed reluctant to take.

How did ‘state capture’ operate in South Africa?

Many of the revelations from the inquiry concern the relationship between two families – the Zumas, centred on the former president, and the Guptas, three Indian-born brothers who moved to South Africa after the fall of apartheid.

The two families became so closely linked that a joint term was coined for them – the “Zuptas”.

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Huge protests were organised to force Jacob Zuma from power

The Guptas owned a portfolio of companies that enjoyed lucrative contracts with South African government departments and state-owned conglomerates. They also employed several Zuma family members – including the president’s son, Duduzane – in senior positions.

According to testimony heard at the inquiry, the Guptas went to great lengths to influence their most important client, the South African state.

Public officials responsible for various state bodies say they were directly instructed by the Guptas to take decisions that would advance the brothers’ business interests.

It is alleged that compliance was rewarded with money and promotion, while disobedience was punished with dismissal.

South Africa’s former president Jacob Zuma pulls out of corruption inquiry

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