The General Council of the Bar of South Africa (GCB) has raised concerns after EFF leader Julius Malema called the Zondo commission's evidence leader and head of legal team advocate Paul Pretorius, SC, a "bastard".
Malema's was speaking during a picket against Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan outside the judicial commission of inquiry into state capture in Parktown, Johannesburg.
Addressing party supporters on Tuesday, Malema said Pretorius had provided pro bono legal assistance to Adrian Lackay, Gordhan's spokesperson, in a dismissal complaint before the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration.
He said: "When Pravin doesn't answer questions, the bastard doesn't interrupt. The bastard doesn't tell Pravin to answer, instead they allow Pravin to lecture them."
Malema also declared that the political party had decided to fight Gordhan.
However, in a statement issued on Friday, the GCB said: "Apart from its empty literal meaning of an illegitimate child, the word 'bastard' is an insult used to describe a person who has behaved despicably."
Confidence in profession 'undermined'
The GCB stated that Malema's comments on Pretorius' pro bono legal assistance to Lackay in his CCMA case suggested that he (Pretorius) was acting out of ulterior personal motives.
"This logic or reasoning is not only of significant concern to the GCB, but it should be of equal concern to all members of the profession.
"Should Mr Malema's approach gain public currency, it will not only potentially discourage advocates from complying with their duty to undertake pro bono work or work at reduced rates for fear of being publicly accused of unprofessional conduct in their other matters, thus undermining the goal of access to justice.
"More critically, it will also potentially undermine public confidence in the profession as an independent referral profession comprising advocates ethically bound to apply their forensic skills to the best of their ability to every matter in which they are briefed, irrespective of their personal support of or animosity towards the views or policies of their client," it said.
On Thursday, the South African Council of Churches and the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation lambasted Malema for his comments, criticising his "inflammatory" verbal attack on Gordhan.
In response, the EFF said: "No one is going to intimidate us into submission from holding Gordhan accountable."
Corruption Watch has called for inquiry chair Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo to defend the work of the commission.
Corruption Watch executive director David Lewis said in a statement that the role of the commission could not be "underestimated".
"It is incumbent upon Justice Zondo, as chair, to defend the integrity of the commission and to preserve the environment for people to continue to come forward, and not be afraid of intimidation," Lewis said.
He said a statement made by Malema described the commission as a "Mickey Mouse" show, and also accused the chairperson of stealing money from the poor.
"This severely undermines the seriousness of the work being done by the commission, and is contrary to the spirit of transparent disclosure that it embodies, and the willingness of witnesses to appear before the commission.
"It's imperative that Justice Zondo use his considerable statutory powers to uphold the integrity and stature of the commission in the face of blatant acts of contempt such as these.
"Failure to hold Mr Malema to account will see more of this appalling conduct and will severely undermine the credibility of the commission's ultimate findings."