CAPE TOWN — Jacob Zuma, the former South African president who left office last year under a cloud of suspicion about his conduct, withdrew on Friday from a high-level inquiry into government corruption, ending a prolonged standoff in which he sought to discredit the lawyers examining him.
“We are here to tell you that we will take no further part in these proceedings,” said Mr. Zuma’s lawyer, Muzi Sikhakhane. The hearings in Johannesburg had been postponed since Wednesday, when Mr. Zuma’s legal team complained that he had been “brought in under false pretenses.”
The commission, chaired by Judge Raymond Zondo, was established to explore allegations of corruption at the highest levels of government, known as state capture. Mr. Zuma’s lawyers argued that the commission had overstepped its mandate in posing detailed questions to the former president.
The line of questioning included the allegations that Mr. Zuma had allowed the Guptas, an Indian business family, to dictate government policy, to the extent that they were allowed to select cabinet ministers sympathetic to their interests.
“Zuma cannot afford to have on record detailed statements which might turn out in a criminal case to be false,” said Pierre de Vos, a constitutional law expert at the University of Cape Town. Instead, Mr. de Vos said, the former president was “trying to discredit the commission.”
The commission was established after an investigation by a former public protector, Thuli Madonsela, that found evidence to suggest corruption in Mr. Zuma’s administration. It does not have prosecutorial powers, and any charges would need to be pursued by the police and the national prosecuting authority.
Among Mr. Zuma’s few substantive admissions were that he helped the Gupta family start a newspaper, The New Age, and satellite news channel, ANN7. Both media houses, which benefited from preferential government advertising, became known for supporting the Zuma administration before they shut down.
“In this country the media is very biased,” Mr. Zuma told the commission, justifying his close involvement in the process. The outlets had “brought a fresh air to the country,” he said, adding: “There was no law broken.”
But Mr. Zuma was more evasive on other matters, saying he had either forgotten or been unaware of critical details. He said he could not recall seeing Vytjie Mentor, a member of Mr. Zuma’s party, African National Congress, at the Guptas’ home in 2010, when Ms. Mentor said they offered her the position of public enterprises minister.
Asked about making a request for a government spokesman, Themba Maseko, to “help” the Guptas, Mr. Zuma said he did not remember doing so. And he said he did not recall orchestrating the appointment of the chief of the state-owned rail and port agency, Transnet, which was riddled with corruption that cost the state hundreds of millions during the his administration.
“I don’t remember myself insisting on this,” Mr. Zuma said.