/ 11 May 2006

Zuma’s rape accuser flees South Africa

An HIV-positive woman who sparked a storm when she laid a charge of rape against former deputy president Jacob Zuma has left South Africa after his acquittal, a daily said on Thursday.

The 31-year-old Aids activist boarded an overseas flight late on Wednesday after arriving at Johannesburg International airport in a car with tinted glass windows, reported the The Star newspaper.

”Her face covered in a long white scarf, she remained in the car as seven bodyguards unloaded her nine pieces of luggage onto two trolleys,” the Johannesburg daily said.

”She waved goodbye to family and friends inside the airport with her bodyguards keeping a close watch on the proceedings, and was whisked through check-in shortly before 11 pm.”

The woman had entered the witness protection programme after laying the charge in December against Zuma, a one-time top contender to succeed President Thabo Mbeki when he steps down in 2009.

Police spokesperson Sally de Beer declined to comment on the report.

”I won’t comment because under the Witness Protection Act, one cannot give details because that would be spoiling your witness protection plans,” she said.

The woman was vilified by Zuma’s supporters during a gruelling court case that ended on Monday when the judge handed down a not-guilty verdict to the former number two.

Her mother’s home in the eastern KwaZulu-Natal province was burgled twice after she laid the rape charge against Zuma, who was a friend of her late father, also a veteran of the anti-apartheid struggle.

A friend of the woman, known as Khwezi because her identity was protected by the court, had earlier said it was no longer safe for her to live in South Africa.

Johannesburg High Court judge Willem van der Merwe on Monday found Zuma not guilty of raping the woman in a verdict that gave the one-time presidential contender a chance to jump-start his political career.

But the judge took a dim view of his irresponsible sexual behaviour on the night of November 2 at his plush Johannesburg home, and a contrite Zuma later apologised for having had unprotected sex.

The 64-year-old veteran told a news conference on Monday that the woman should not be the target of reprisals.

”She deserves to live a fruitful and harmonious life as a citizen of this country,” he told reporters in Johannesburg.

Zuma is due to stand trial again in July for corruption. — AFP