Former president Thabo Mbeki’s legal representation will be covered by the state attorney at the Seriti Commission of Inquiry, Justice Minister Jeff Radebe has said.
Addressing journalists in Cape Town, Radebe denied the state was refusing Mbeki legal help.
Mbeki is one of several witnesses subpoenaed to appear before the inquiry into allegations of corruption in South Africa’s multibillion-rand arms deal.
Lawyer Max Boqwana, representing Mbeki and his former Cabinet ministers, withdrew from the commission on Tuesday after it became clear the state would not pay the bill.
“The withdrawal of the firm Boqwana Burns has created an impression that government has refused to fund the former president’s legal representation in the arms deal commission. This is indeed not true,” Radebe said.
He said Mbeki and his former Cabinet members could decide to appoint private lawyers, but made it clear the state would not pay for this.
“This is perfectly permissible in terms of the regulations. However, under these circumstances, the costs for such legal representation shall be borne by the person requesting such additional support,” he said.
At the same media briefing, Radebe also announced miners wounded or arrested in last year’s Marikana violence should rely on the state’s evidence leaders to represent them.
Radebe said budgetary constraints made it impossible for the state to pay for private legal representation for the workers at the Marikana Commission of Inquiry.
“The department of justice and constitutional development is not any different from other departments in terms of the expectations to spend its resources prudently throughout its operations, including the operations of commissions,” Radebe said.
The state could also not act outside of Monday’s Constitutional Court ruling. The court dismissed an application for leave to appeal a ruling by the high court in Pretoria against the wounded miners.
“The (high court) endorsed the principle that it is not generally within the domain of the courts to determine how the state utilises public funds,” Radebe said.
“This duty lies within the executive arm of government.”
Radebe said government was not “unsympathetic to the cause of the injured miners”.
“Our duty is to expend public funds within the legal framework which sets the parameters for spending public funds and how the said funds can be spent.”
Government was confident the Farlam commission of inquiry’s evidence leaders would protect the interests of miners.
“The evidence leaders have a particular responsibility to gather evidence, analyse it and present it to the commission impartially and without bias, to enable the commission to determine the facts and to make the necessary findings and recommendations,” Radebe said.
The commission is investigating the deaths of 44 people killed during strike-related unrest at Lonmin’s platinum mining operations at Marikana, near Rustenburg in North West, in August last year.
Police shot dead 34 people – almost all striking mine workers – on August 16 2012, while trying to disperse and disarm them. Ten people, including two police officers and two security guards, were killed in the preceding week.
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