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Zuma back in court?

February 16, 2012

South Africa's President Jacob Zuma is facing renewed political embarrassment as a corruption case he had thought was over and done with is returning to haunt him.

Jacob Zuma at an election rally in 2009
The case against Zuma needs to be reopened, critics sayImage: picture-alliance/dpa

The opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) has submitted a request to the Supreme Court of Appeals that a case closed in 2009 should be reopened. The corruption case against Jacob Zuma was withdrawn shortly before the 2009 general elections, enabling him to be elected President. He had faced charges of fraud, corruption, racketeering and money laundering, brought by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) in 2006.

Zuma had previously been sacked as Deputy President by Thabo Mbeki following allegations that he had accepted bribes of more than $170,000 (131,000 euros) from his former financial advisor Schabir Shaik in return for political favors and government contracts. Formal charges were instituted against Zuma following his dismissal by Mbeki. He also faced a separate charge of rape, brought by a woman Zuma had known to be HIV-positive.

Zuma being sworn in as president in 2009
After charges were dropped in 2009, Zuma was elected presidentImage: AP

The High Court in Pietermaritzburg threw out the corruption charges due to lack of evidence, while the rape charge was dismissed by a court in Johannesburg which ruled the sex had been consensual. Zuma was, however, strongly criticized and ridiculed for his statement that he had showered after having sex with the woman in order to reduce the risk of contracting HIV.

Zuma backers pile on the pressure

With the charges dropped, the way was open for Zuma to embark on a political revival and he was elected ANC President at the organisation's national conference in Polokwane in 2007. Backed by the trade union federation COSATU, the ANC Youth League and the South African Communist Party, Zuma trounced Mbeki for the ruling party's top job, but soon after the conference the National Prosecuting Authority reinstituted the corruption charges against Zuma.

Supporters of Zuma carried out a relentless campaign against Mbeki, forcing him to step down as president in 2008. Pro-Zuma forces within the government embarked on a campaign to reform the NPA and in 2009 the new head of the NPA, Mokotedi Mpshe, withdrew the corruption charges, saying Zuma had been the victim of a political conspiracy.

A pensive-looking Thabo Mbeki
Thabo Mbeki was the victim of a campaign by Zuma supportersImage: picture-alliance/dpa

The opposition Democratic Alliance is now calling for the case to be reopened, saying Mpshe's decision had been politically motivated. The DA argues that its application is in the public interest as it relates to the Schabir Shaik case in which the judge had found that there was a “generally corrupt” relationship between Zuma and Shaik. The initial trial found Shaik guilty of bribery and corruption and sentenced him to 15 years.

Nothing personal

The DA argues that all decisions to withdraw prosecutions most be open to review. Otherwise there would be a risk that prosecutions could be discontinued "on political or frivolous considerations".

DA spokesman James Selfe stressed that the action was not being taken against Zuma personally. "It's not personal. There's a principle at stake," he said.

It is, however, regarded as unlikely that the court will rule in favor of reopening the case against Zuma.

Author: Susan Houlton (with additional material from Subry Govender, Johannesburg)
Editor: Mark Caldwell

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