The state on Tuesday invited Jacob Zuma’s legal team to submit evidence taken in controversial search-and-seizure raids to be adjudicated by the Pietermaritzburg High Court, saying this would speed up the corruption trial.
Zuma and his co-accused Thint, subsidiary of a French arms company, are asking that the court dismiss the trial because the case has been prejudiced by unreasonable delays caused by the state.
The state said on Tuesday that the status of the various search-and-seizure raids conducted in the run-up to the trial were the main reason for the need for a postponement.
State prosecutor Wim Trengove suggested that presiding Judge Herbert Msimang decide on the validity of the search-and-seizure operations, and not any other courts.
”In the interests of a speedy resolution the trial court will be in a better position to consider the admissibility of the evidence [seized in the raids],” Trengove said.
Trengove said that while the state did not contest the defence’s right to contest the raids, the defence should not be surprised if this led to delays.
”If they exercise their right to litigate [regarding the search-and-seizure raids] then they [Zuma’s defence] can’t complain about delays in this case.”
He said that the state would go ahead with the trial irrespective of whether the raids were contested. The state had conducted a number of raids on Zuma’s premises and at the offices of some of his associates in the run-up to the trial.
Msimang asked Trengove whether the state had not anticipated that the search-and-seizure raids would be challenged.
Trengove conceded but said that the delays in Zuma’s case could then not be attributed to the state.
The state would serve its final indictment on October 15.
Msimang was in a combative mood and plied Trengove with questions, often changing subjects.
He wanted to know whether the state had not prosecuted prematurely, but Trengove said they had believed they would be ready for trial by July 31 2006.
Another reason for the delay, Trengove explained, was that the state had applied to have documents seized in Mauritius brought to South Africa from the offices of Thint International.
Trengove said the forthcoming appeal of Zuma’s financial adviser Schabir Shaik, from whose trial Zuma’s charges emanate, created manpower difficulties and they both had the same prosecution.
Shaik’s appeal of his 15-year sentence for fraud and corruption is expected to be heard later in September.
The Supreme Court will be deciding on ”issues of law” that are common in both cases, he said.
Zuma is accused of having accepted a R500Ã‚Â 000 a year bribe from Thint in exchange for protection into a probe into South Africa’s controversial multibillion-rand arms deal.
Zuma faces a jail sentence of 10 years or more if found guilty. An acquittal could restore him as frontrunner to succeed Thabo Mbeki as South African president in 2009. The 64-year-old Zulu politician was sacked by Mbeki last year over allegations he was linked to an arms procurement scandal.
Zuma and his supporters fear a delayed trial could hurt his chances of succeeding Mbeki.
KwaZulu-Natal security minister Bheki Cele earlier chided some supporters who began singing a song critical of President Thabo Mbeki.
After Cele spoke to them they immediately stopped singing ”Thabo Mbeki uyimenemene [Thabo Mbeki you are a hypocrite]”. They also stopped showing a banner saying ”Mbeki is guilty”.
Anti-Mbeki songs have been sung at Zuma’s previous court appearances with a T-shirt bearing his image also being burnt.
Trial comes to Sleepy Hollow
Business was brisk in the usually sleepy town. The manager of CafÃ© Bavaria — the closest coffee shop to the court — didn’t even have time to speak to the Mail & Guardian Online over the phone. ”We are very busy and I have people looking at me waiting to be served,” said the manager, who did not want to be identified.
Minori Pillay, an employee at Mason Incorporated, which is situated about 500m from the court, said the experience of going to work on Tuesday morning was ”not nice”.
”The traffic was so heavy because they closed off Church Street. The last time this happened I got to work 20 minutes late. Some of the girls sat in traffic for half an hour,” she said.
A comment on the Friends of Jacob Zuma website from a supporter by the name of Noxolo, reads: ”Baba, please be strong today [Tuesday]. I’m sorry I can’t be there with you but I promise I will be praying for you and our lawyers the whole day. My friends, my comrades, please be strong for Baba and those who are in PMB, show him how much we love him. My heart bleeds that our hero has to go through all this. One day justice will come, JZ will rule.”
Nhlakanipho Ntombela, the provincial chairperson of the African National Congress Youth League, said there were about 8 000 supporters at the court from different organisations.
”People are energetic and they are coming in their numbers to showcase their support. They’re toyi-toying but otherwise everything is normal and has been very disciplined,” he said.
”Lots of reporters are staying at the hotel,” said Yashika Pillay, front-office supervisor at the City Royal Hotel, a few streets down from the Pietermaritzburg High Court on Church Street. ”We are full, but mostly it’s like normal,” she added.
According to Errard Sullivan, general manager of the nearby Protea Imperial hotel, it was ”not affected by it [the trial] whatsoever”.
But he added that there were traffic delays caused by road closures on streets surrounding the court.
”Traffic was diverted down this road away from the court,” said Pillay, ”and it has been extremely busy.”
John Morrison, manager of the Msunduzi Municipal Library on Church Street, said the library was told not to open to the public, because the surrounding streets were blocked off to traffic. ”It’s been quiet here, there is no tension or problems,” Morrison said. ”It’s so quiet I don’t even notice it.”
”I’m not saying there aren’t people, there are people, but it’s more festive,” Morrison said.
”There is music playing, they are selling things like ANC and Zuma T-shirts, Kaizer Chiefs caps,” he said.
Police spokesperson Superintendent Muzi Mngonezunu said Zuma’s supporters were behaving ”really well so far”.
Mngonezunu added that they have enough manpower to cover the area, with surveillance cameras and police officers deployed at almost every corner. ”So far there are around 3 000 to 4 000 people outside the court already.”