Zuma’s transplant trial to resume despite deadly South Africa protests
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A long-running corruption trial of jailed ex-South African President Jacob Zuma will all but resume on Monday, despite deadly violence sweeping the country after his incarceration in an unrelated case.
Zuma faces 16 counts of fraud, corruption and racketeering in connection with a 1999 purchase of fighter jets, patrol boats and military equipment from five European arms companies while he was vice-president. President.
He is accused of accepting bribes from one of the companies, French defense giant Thales, which has been charged with corruption and money laundering.
The trial began in May after numerous postponements and delays, as Zuma’s legal team worked earnestly to have the charges dropped.
Zuma, 79, showed up in person for the opening and said he was innocent.
Thales has also pleaded not guilty and the next hearing has been set for Monday.
But things took a turn for the worse when Zuma was found in contempt of South Africa’s highest court on June 29 for snubbing corruption investigators investigating his tenure as president. He was jailed a week later.
The incarceration sparked protests in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal, which snowballed in a week of looting and arson that spilled over to Johannesburg’s economic hub, killing more than 200 people.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who came to power promising to fight corruption, said the riots were a “coordinated and well-planned attack” on the country’s fledgling democracy.
“Under the pretext of a political grievance, those behind these acts sought to provoke a popular uprising,” Ramaphosa said Friday evening.
Monday’s hearing could rekindle tensions that subsided at the end of last week, analysts warn.
– Stability at stake –
“People will be watching the behavior of the judges,” said Sipho Seepe, a fellow at the University of Zululand in KwaZulu-Natal.
“If they feel that justice is not being served, they will protest.”
Monday’s hearing will focus on a request from Zuma’s legal team asking Chief Prosecutor Billy Downer to step down from the case for claiming to have leaked information to the media.
“We will strongly advocate for the request to be denied,” National Prosecution Authority spokesman Mthunzi Mhaga told AFP.
The trial will be conducted virtually to “avoid disruption,” Mhaga said.
Zuma supporters are still likely to rally outside the High Court in Pietermaritzburg to show their support, as they have done in previous hearings.
Zuma’s lawyers claim the virtual format is unconstitutional and have requested an adjournment of the trial.
His foundation confirmed on Twitter Sunday evening that the ex-president would attend Monday’s hearing virtually “for the request to postpone his trial.”
Zuma and his supporters have repeatedly dismissed all inquiries as politically motivated and warned his imprisonment would spark unrest.
But they deny being at the origin of the recent turmoil.
Carl Niehaus, a close friend of Zuma, told reporters this week that there had been no “coordinated campaign to lead to looting and violence”.
“There is however an uprising of people who are deeply concerned and angry at [his] imprisonment.”
– ‘Ride the storm’ –
Zuma, once known as the “president of Teflon,” is seeking to overturn his 15-month prison sentence.
He was arrested for disobeying a Constitutional Court order to testify before a judicial panel investigating the looting of state coffers during his nine-year reign.
Most of the transgressions investigated by the commission involve three brothers from a wealthy Indian business family, the Guptas, who won lucrative government contracts and were reportedly allowed to choose ministers.
Zuma only testified once in July 2019.
South Africa’s ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), forced Zuma – who is a member of the country’s dominant ethnic group, the Zulus – to resign in 2018 after growing corruption scandals.
But Zuma retained a fervent base of support within the ANC and among the general public, considered by many to be a “man of the people” and an advocate for the poor.
Ralph Mathekga, author of “When Zuma Goes”, said the judges in the corruption case would not give in to “political pressure”.
“Failure to prosecute Mr. Zuma will have serious implications for the rule of law,” he told AFP. “Justice is going to have to ride the storm.”
© 2021 AFP