/ 29 December 2007

Zuma supporters decry new charges

Supporters of Jacob Zuma, the new leader of the African National Congress (ANC), protested on Saturday that new corruption charges against him were part of a politically inspired vendetta.

South African prosecutors have slapped Zuma with a host of new charges, including money laundering, racketeering and tax evasion, along with original corruption and fraud charges that were struck off the court roll last year.

Zuma’s supporters have cried foul over the timing of the charges, a little over a week since he was elected leader of the ANC, which may scupper his hopes of becoming head of state in 2009.

The ANC Youth League (ANCYL) has accused President Thabo Mbeki of being a ”behind-the-scenes player” in the decision to charge Zuma again, while the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) denounced the move as a ”politically inspired campaign”.

”The timing of the indictment has all the hallmarks of vengeance, deep-seated anger and frustration by the National Prosecuting Authority and whoever else is behind this,” said Cosatu spokesperson Patrick Craven.

”We are convinced that Jacob Zuma will not have a fair trial.”

Zuma’s attorney, Michael Hulley, said in a statement mailed to Agence France-Presse that the timing of the indictment was ”peculiar” and that it proved the Scorpions were ”influenced and their prosecution informed by political considerations”.

Pretoria-based political analyst Adam Habib said that while there was nothing legally wrong, the timing of the announcement may be seen as ”acrimonious”.

”The Zuma camp has been saying for years that there is a political conspiracy — it will reinforce the view that was already there,” he said.

Zuma, who was cleared of rape at a trial last year, was sacked by Mbeki as deputy head of state in 2005 after his financial adviser, Schabir Shaik, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for soliciting bribes.

Hulley said the Scorpions had informed his client that he would stand trial ”on various counts of racketeering, money laundering, corruption and fraud”.

”According to the indictment, which was served on Mr Zuma’s Johannesburg residence in his absence, the trial is to proceed on August 14 2008.”

An initial bid to try Zuma was dropped from the court roll by a judge last year, while prosecutors fought a separate battle to gain access to crucial evidence obtained in raids that Zuma’s legal team said were illegal.

However, a court ruling last month declared the search warrants valid, strengthening the prosecutor’s case.

This decision is currently under appeal at the Constitutional Court.

‘Desperate plot’

Given the ANC’s dominance of South African politics since the end of the whites-only apartheid rule in 1994, Zuma could normally expect to become president of the country after Mbeki’s second term of office expires in 2009.

However, while saying charges would not force his resignation, Zuma has said he would step aside if convicted.

ANCYL president Fikile Mbalula said the charges were ”nothing more than a desperate plot to block Comrade Zuma’s ascendancy to the highest office of the land, which is driven by a political vendetta”.

”The decision to charge Zuma is not a decision by the judiciary, it is a decision by the state and the case is being led by Mbeki,” the South African Press Association quoted Mbalula as saying at a press briefing in Durban.

ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe said the ANC would have to confront the ”issue and deal with it formally”.

”The ANC [national executive committee], when it meets on the seventh [of January], will discuss how to deal with this matter in a structured manner,” he said.

The leader of the opposition Democratic Alliance, Helen Zille, said it was time for Zuma, who has long demanded his day in court to be exonerated, ”to face his charges and to accept the outcome of a trial”. — AFP