On Friday, things took a bizarre turn at the corruption inquiry when Mr. Zuma withdrew in the morning — “We are here to tell you that we will take no further part in these proceedings,” said his lawyer, Muzi Sikhakhane — before reversing course and saying that he would resume cooperating next week.
Mr. Zuma left office last year under a cloud of suspicion about his conduct, and the commission, led by Judge Raymond Zondo, was established to explore allegations of corruption so pervasive that it has come to be 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 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.”
Ms. Mkhwebane’s ruling appeared to have been “engineered very well” by Mr. Zuma’s allies within the A.N.C., said Ralph Mathekga, a prominent political analyst.
“The tables have turned,” Mr. Mathekga said. “This just weakens Ramaphosa.”
Mr. Mathekga added that the ruling would probably be challenged in court but had successfully diverted attention from Mr. Zuma’s withdrawal, though that was later mitigated by the former president’s about-face. “This factionalism works so well for him,” Mr. Mathekga said, speaking of Mr. Zuma.
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.