Zuma’s trial commences virtually
Zuma, 79, began a 15-month jail term last month in an unrelated case, an event that sparked violence and looting. Shortly afterwards, he appeared for the corruption trial via video link, although his lawyers complained the online format was unconstitutional and breached his right to face-to-face consultation with his lawyers. Zuma faces 16 charges of fraud, graft and racketeering related to the 1999 purchase of fighter jets, patrol boats and equipment from five European arms firms when he was deputy president.
He is accused of taking bribes from one of the firms French defence giant Thales, which has been charged with corruption and money laundering. Next week’s hearing will start off with Zuma’s application to have the state’s chief prosecutor, Billy Downer, recused from the case on allegations of bias and leaking information to the media.
Zuma’s Foundation welcomed Koen’s decision to have the case heard in an open court. “Victory to the constitution. Now Mr Downer, will be processed properly,” the foundation stated.
During the last sitting, Wim Trengove, a lawyer representing the national prosecution, rejected requests for Downer’s recusal as “merely a ruse” aimed at further delaying the case. Proceedings have been repeatedly postponed for more than a decade as Zuma fights a rearguard action to have the charges dropped.
Zuma was ordered to serve a 15-month term for refusing to testify to a commission probing state corruption under his presidency from 2009 to 2019. Protests initially broke out against Zuma’s imprisonment but soon descended into rioting and looting, with vigilante groups forming to protect property. Major highways and rail routes were shut down, while businesses were plundered and burned.
The violence escalated into the worst unrest since the end of apartheid, prompting current South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa to label it an attempted “insurrection”. At least 337 people were reported killed during the unrest.
Trade Minister Ebrahim Patel on Thursday said that across the country looted businesses had suffered approximately five billion rand ($348m) in damages. The violence was also fanned by frustration at the persistently high unemployment rate and economic inequality in the country, exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.
Suzan O /AJZ