South Africa’s highest court on Thursday ruled against African National Congress (ANC) leader Jacob Zuma in his attempt to stop seized evidence being used against him in a corruption trial.
Nine of the 10 judges of the Constitutional Court said warrants used in raids on Zuma and his lawyer were valid and the state could use seized documents in its prosecution of Zuma, the frontrunner to succeed President Thabo Mbeki next year.
In a unanimous decision, the court also cleared the way for the use of a diary and other documents from Mauritius in the same trial, another blow to Zuma, who tried to block prosecutors from obtaining the documents.
The ANC president is accused of accepting hundreds of thousands of rands in bribes from Thint, a French arms firm. He denies the charges and is expected to go on trial this year for corruption, money-laundering, fraud and racketeering.
The legal battle is likely to decide whether Zuma succeeds Mbeki, who is barred from seeking a third term as state president in 2009. Zuma has said he will step down as party leader if convicted of the charges.
Zuma and defence attorney Michael Hulley argued the Scorpions violated their rights when they raided their properties in 2005. They said the search warrants used were illegal and violated their privacy, property and other rights.
The Supreme Court of Appeal, however, previously ruled that the documents seized by the Scorpions could be used against Zuma when he went to trial.
Support for Zuma
In a statement after the court’s decision, the ANC said it respects the ruling of court.
However, it said it ”reaffirms its support for its president and the principle of equality before the law”. It said its leaders and supporters would gather outside the Pietermaritzburg High Court on Monday August 4 to show support for Zuma, where he is applying to have the decision to prosecute him declared unlawful.
”The ANC reiterates its view that the manner in which this case has been handled by the authorities over the last few years has reinforced the perception that the ANC president is being persecuted rather than merely prosecuted. It has also fuelled doubts about his chances of receiving a fair hearing,” read the statement.
The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), meanwhile, said it is ”certainly very pleased” with the court’s ruling.
”This marks the conclusion of one chapter in the protracted legal battle,” NPA spokesperson Tlali Tlali said outside the court.
Tlali maintained that the state is ”court ready”. Unless interlocutory applications are made, it will be able to prosecute and ”get the criminal trial under way”.
He said it will only be at Zuma’s appearance in court on August 4 that a possible trial date will be made known.
Helen Zille, leader of the opposition Democratic Alliance, said: ”Zuma must now face his day in court.”
She said that the court’s ruling ”serves as proof that the highest court in the country can act without fear or favour”.
”Jacob Zuma has consistently asked for his day in court. He and his supporters must now accept today’s [Thursday] decision as the legitimate pronouncement of the court and must desist from any further attempts to block the course of justice.”
South African Communist Party secretary general Blade Nzimande said he is not surprised that Zuma lost his appeal.
”We expected this. The whole Hlophe matter, we have said, was actually preparing us for this,” Nzimande told reporters outside the Constitutional Court, referring to Judge John Hlophe’s alleged attempts to interfere in the Zuma judgment.
”[This case] will go down in history as the first political trial, post-apartheid,” added Nzimande.
Dominic Tweedie, editor of Congress of South African Trade Unions magazine Shop Steward, told the Mail & Guardian Online: ”Nothing has changed. We still support Jacob Zuma. We have got nothing to say at the moment. We are looking to Monday when he [Zuma] appears in court.”
The South Africa Student’s Congress said: ”Sasco views this ruling as part of an invincible political hand that handles judges in order to achieve political and factiona agendas.
”We remain resolute that Constitutional Court judges have lost integrity and impartiality when dealing with the JZ issue, therefore only a permanent stay of prosecution can bring justice to this case,” said a statement.
The Young Communist League aligned itself with the minority judgement of judge Sandile Ncgobo, saying it saw it as a ”majoritarian view”.
Ngcobo found that the state had not provided all the necessary information to a judge when asking for the warrants and had not shown that less intrusive measures could have been used to get the documents they wanted.
Ngcobo also expressed concern about searches being conducted Hulley’s offices. The majority judgement found that nobody had claimed privilege and that they were not unlawful, but ordered the removal of a ”catch-all phrase” from that warrant saying anything could be taken which might have a bearing on the case.
The YCL was worried that the judgment would set legal conditions for the harassment of people not charged of any crime and stuck to its view that the August 18 2005 searches were unlawful and an abuse of state power.
The Congress of South African Trade Unions said it had hoped for a different result but respected the ruling.
”We are on record as having in the past recorded our displeasure at the impact of the manner in which the Constitutional Court managed the complaint against the Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe,” Cosatu said in a statement.
”We have also, in the past, voiced our discomfort at the comments made by the Constitutional Court deputy president, Dikgang Moseneke, regarding his views about Jacob Zuma.
”We hope that these issues did not sway the Constitutional Court judges in any way in relation to their decision today.”
The United Democratic Movement said the judgement should teach Zuma that ”his delaying tactics are failing”.
It suggested Zuma consult his family and announce that he would stop avoiding his day in court.
”He needs to be aware that the politicians that surround him may be abusing his cause for their own self-aggrandisement. He should thank them for what they have done until now, and then jettison them,” UDM leader Bantu Holomisa said.
Zuma should display leadership by ”facing the music”.