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Africa

South Africa: appeal on Zuma graft charges

South Africa’s National Prosecuting Authority is set to appeal a reopening of 783 corruption charges against President Zuma. Meanwhile, the country's public protector, Thuli Madonsela, is making new graft enquiries.

Scandal after scandal has plagued South Africa's president in the last few months. From slogans like #ZumaMustFall to #PayBackTheMoney, Zuma's critics have voiced their frustrations over their president's alleged spending sprees and the resurfaced corruption charges. Just months ago, Zuma survived a parliamentary impeachment vote after South Africa's Constitutional Court said he had breached the law by refusing to pay back $16 million (14 million euros) worth of state funds, which he spent on luxury upgrades to his rural Nkandla home.

In April this year, the Pretoria High Court declared that a 2009 ruling that cleared Zuma of nearly 800 charges of corruption, fraud and money laundering was not justified. The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) had abandoned the original charges due to lack of evidence. The NPA's head at the time Mokotedi Mpshe had also said that he believed that Zuma was charged on political grounds. Now the government body wants to appeal the high court's decision to question its judgment and re-open the case.

Zuma's acquittal took place soon after he was elected president of the ruling ANC in 2008. Political analysts said at the time, the outcome of the charges in Zuma's favor, was aimed at clearing the way for him to become president. Mmusi Maimane, leader of South Africa's biggest opposition party, Democratic Alliance, made similar claims. "The only reason why Mr Jacob Zuma is not yet in jail," Maimaine said, "is because he has captured every state institution that has the power to put him there." Maimaine's party has pursued a seven-year battle, demanding that Zuma appears before a court.

Protests against Zuma

Protests against Zuma and the ANC government have been held throughout the past year

NPA criticized

The decision by the prosecuting authority to appeal against the reinstatement of corruption charges against Zuma has been met with criticism. Lawson Naidoo, executive director of the Council for the Advancement of the South Africa Constitution, an independent organization which specializes in constitutional rights, believes Zuma was simply stalling the legal proceedings. "This is really a matter of delaying the moment at which the NPA will actually have to take a decision to re-institute the 783 fraud and corruption charges against the president," Naidoo said.

The appeal, said Pierre De Vos, a legal expert at the University of Cape Town, would also reflect poorly on the credibility of the prosecuting authority. "The perception will arise, especially by those of us who are a little informed about the law, that this decision was not taken for legal grounds and that is not good for the NPA," he noted. De Vos thinks that neither the NPA nor Zuma will succeed in getting Pretoria High Court to overturn the ruling.

Allegations of corruption

The charges of fraud, corruption, racketeering and money laundering were first brought against Jacob Zuma by the NPA in 2006 after he was sacked as deputy president by former president Thabo Mbeki.

Mbeki sacked Zuma after his financial advisor, Schabir Shaik, was sentenced to 15 years in jail. The pair had been involved in handling an arms deal aimed at modernizing South Africa's defense forces. Shaik was found guilty of attempting to solicit a bribe with Thint, the South African subsidiary of the French company Thales. He was said to have acted on Zuma's behalf and the presiding judge found that there was a symbiotic and fraudulent relationship between the two.

Maimane of the Democratic Alliance said it was important to remind South Africans of the case. "You see we have forgotten how Mr Shaik solicited bribes for Mr Zuma and how he wrote off debts for Mr Zuma."

Despite all calls for him to face charges in court, South Africa's president has maintained his innocence. And despite criticism from veteran politicians like Ahmed Kathrada, the ANC largely still stands behind him.

Thuli Madonsela Public Protector

Public Protector Thuli Madonsela is making enquiries into fresh Zuma cases

More money for investigations

Aside from the old charges against the president, new investigations are also underway. Public protector, Thuli Madonsela, this week said that she needed more resources to investigate President Zuma and his dealings with the Gupta family – a wealthy Indian business family, who allegedly influenced the appointment of cabinet ministers. The case took a forefront in South African politics after deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas said that, the Guptas had offered him the post of finance minister. Madonsela hopes to finalize the investigation before her term ends in October this year.

Madonsela previously investigated Zuma over the 240 million rand ($16 million) upgrades to his private Nkandla home. Although Zuma initially denied the allegations, he has since bowed to public demands and a constitutional court ruling that he should pay back the money.

Madonsela said that she had received death threats and faced smear campaigns over her investigative work that she has carried out during her time as South Africa's public prosecutor. Her office is currently also probing South Africa's finance minister over his role in the country's tax agency during the late 1990s.

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