/ 6 September 2008

Top judge slams Zuma court protests

KwaZulu-Natal Judge President Vuka Tshabalala has criticised protests by African National Congress president Jacob Zuma’s supporters at courts across the province, South African Broadcasting Corporation news reported on Friday.

He said the courts should be left to do their work, adding that pickets would not influence the outcome of the courts in any way.

Protests and pickets were staged at magistrate’s courts in parts of KwaZulu-Natal on Friday in a campaign aimed at forcing the court to drop fraud and corruption charges against Zuma.

The protests, arranged by the ANC’s eThekwini region, will be followed by the handing over of memorandums detailing the party’s demands, including that the National Prosecuting Authority drop charges against Zuma.

Tshabalala said the pickets would not force the justice system to give in to the demands of demonstrators.

Earlier, Pinetown police spokesperson Inspector Solomon Mbhele said a crowd of about 1 000 had converged outside the court. Some, he said, were armed with sticks.

”The protesters were trying to get into the court but police with riot shields managed to stop them. Some protesters were also throwing the orange cones that were demarcating the surrounding roads,” Mbhele said. ”There was not too much violence but there was a lot of chancing.”

John Mchunu, ANC eThekwini general secretary, said officials closed the door to the court building, preventing the protesters from entering. He said: ”We are members of the public and like them we have a right to enter the building.”

Meanwhile, a crowd of about 100 was seen picketing outside the Durban Magistrate’s Court. Protesters held a big banner that read: ”We shall take arms if need be to support ANC president Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma.”

In KwaMashu, police spokesperson Constable Sizwe Nxumalo reported that at least 300 supporters were protesting outside the Ntuzuma Magistrate’s Court.

At the Umlazi court, police spokesperson Superintendent Danelia Veldhuizen said there were about 100 protesters. There were unconfirmed reports of cases at the court being rolled over due to high noise levels.

Last week the ANC, supported by the South African Communist Party, marched on various police stations in the province. This time the protesters targeted courts.

Overall, Mchunu declared Friday’s protests successful. Another protest is planned for September 10 outside the National Prosecuting Authority’s offices in Durban.

Asked about the influence of politics in Zuma’s case, Tshabalala said he could not comment as he was not dealing with the case.

On the eve of September 12, when Zuma finds out whether Judge Chris Nicholson has ruled in his favour to have the decision to charge him declared unlawful, protesters will converge on Pietermaritzburg’s Freedom Square (formerly Market Square) for a night vigil.

Zuma faces charges including corruption and fraud. He was charged in 2005 but that case was struck from the roll in 2006. He was recharged in December 2007.

Two Thint companies — Thint Holdings (Southern Africa) and Thint — are the South African subsidiaries of the French arms manufacturing giant Thales International (formerly Thomson-CFS). They face similar charges for allegedly paying Zuma bribes. — Sapa