Former South African President Jacob Zuma’s corruption case was adjourned until June 8, signaling that a criminal trial may be delayed until at least the end of the year.
Zuma, 75, is facing 16 charges brought by the National Prosecuting Authority that range from corruption to racketeering related to bribes he allegedly took in the 1990s from weapons dealers including French arms maker Thales SA, which is also a defendant. Judge Themba Sishi announced the adjournment that was proposed by the state and supported by the defense Friday at the High Court in Durban.
The case signals a dramatic turnaround in South Africa where Zuma held a tight grip on power for almost a decade before his former deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, won the leadership of the ruling African National Congress in December and took over as president in February. His downfall and Ramaphosa’s rise have boosted confidence in the economy, with Moody’s Investors Service last month removing its threat of a junk credit rating.
“I don’t think we will see Zuma’s criminal trial start or reach a conclusion this year,” said William Booth, the head of the South African Law Society’s criminal division. “His review of the decision to prosecute him by the NPA will still have to be heard by at least two High Court judges and that can take several months depending on availability of the judges and time taken for various legal papers to be filed and answered.”
Several hundred Zuma supporters, some defying a ban by the ANC on wearing party regalia to the court, chanted his name and ululated as he left the chamber in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal.
“I am here to support him as a leader who steered the ship as the head of the ANC and embodied the party and showed us how to do the same,” said 56-year-old Zodwa Ntombela, wearing an ANC scarf. “So we must support him.”
The move to pursue the charges against Zuma came after the Supreme Court of Appeal in October upheld a lower-court ruling that the decision to drop the charges in 2009 was “irrational” and that the political considerations that had tainted the investigation were irrelevant to the integrity of the case.
Last month, chief prosecutor Shaun Abrahams said the case would go ahead and he was confident that “there are reasonable prospects of a successful prosecution.”
Zuma said the charges were reinstated for political reasons.
“There are some people who are pursuing their opposition in the courts rather than in parliament,” he told supporters outside the court. “There are people who are plotting to have me arrested and placed in prison.”
His lawyers said they planned to file papers seeking a review of Abrahams’s decision to proceed with the case.
“It would appear as if the application to review the prosecution is, once again, a tactic to delay legal proceedings,” said Phephelaphi Dube, the director of the Johannesburg-based Centre for Constitutional Rights. “This is because Zuma’s legal representatives have already conceded before the Supreme Court of Appeal that the 2009 decision to withdraw the charges was irrational.”