/ 11 September 2008

SA awaits Zuma’s big day

Was the Scorpions’ decision to prosecute African National Congress (ANC) president Jacob Zuma legal? On Friday, the whole nation will be waiting for Judge Chris Nicholson to hand down his decision in the Pietermaritzburg High Court.

Irrespective of the decision, police will be on high alert while the media convey to the public Nicholson’s decision on Zuma, the man next in line for the country’s presidency.

In August, state advocate Wim Trengove, SC, told the court the decision by National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) acting head Mokotedi Mpshe to recharge Zuma in 2007 should be viewed independently of the move to charge him in 2005.

”The current decision [by Mpshe] was a decision that was taken on a clean slate,” Trengove told the court in the state’s opposition of Zuma’s bid to have the decision to prosecute him declared unlawful.

Zuma faces a charge of racketeering, four charges of corruption, a charge of money laundering and 12 charges of fraud related to the multibillion-rand government arms deal.

He was charged in 2005 but that case was struck from the role in 2006. He was recharged in December 2007.

His legal team contends the charges should be dropped because the state did not offer Zuma the opportunity to make representation when it decided to charge him again.

The Zuma camp argues that the Constitution guarantees the right to make representations when the NPA reverses a decision, but Trengove told the court that Zuma should not even argue about the decision to charge him in 2005, because that case was scrapped from the court roll by Judge Herbert Msimang in 2006.

New charges
Should Nicholson agree with the argument that was presented by Kemp J Kemp, the question will arise whether charges can again be instituted against Zuma, especially since the country’s ANC-led government intends to disband the Scorpions.

Professor Managay Reddi, a criminal law expert from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said that should Nicholson rule in Zuma’s favour, nothing would prevent charges from being reinstituted against Zuma.

However, this would have to be with the prior representation that Zuma’s legal team has demanded.

Yunis Shaik, the brother of Zuma’s former financial adviser Schabir Shaik, who was sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment on two counts of corruption and one count of fraud, said he would be watching the unfolding of events in Pietermaritzburg.

”We would be delighted [with a decision in Zuma’s favour], but I can’t anticipate which way Nicholson would rule,” he said, adding that Friday’s decision would ”have no bearing” on his brother’s case.

Shaik was found guilty in 2005 of attempting to solicit a R500 000 bribe for Zuma from French arms manufacturer Thales International (formerly Thompson-CSF).

If Nicholson rules in favour of the state, Zuma’s legal team has already said it will seek a permanent stay of prosecution.

Zuma’s attorney, Michael Hulley, could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

Among those waiting for the decision will be the legion of Zuma supporters from the ANC, the ANC Youth League (ANCYL) and the ANC’s alliance partners the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) and the South African Communist Party.

They are expected to converge on Freedom Square (formerly Market Square) in Pietermaritzburg on Friday. Several thousand supporters are also expected to attend a vigil in the square on Thursday night.

The alliance’s top leadership is expected to be in court in support of Zuma.

Hotels through out the city are reportedly booked out. A television crew had to book accommodation in a town 35km from the KwaZulu-Natal capital.

Several of the city’s streets have been closed off and police spokesperson Superintendent Henry Budhram said there would be enough police officers on the ground to deal with any situation.

On Thursday, Floyd Shivambu, spokesperson for the ANCYL, told the Mail & Guardian Online he is ”100%” sure that the ruling will be in favour of Zuma.

”Today we are preparing for celebrations. We are going to celebrate that our president will be relieved. We organised different artists, kwaito artists and traditional artists,” he said.

He expects ”thousands of people” to come to the Pietermaritzburg High Court where the celebrations will start. ”We set up a stage and screens. I think the stage and the screens are already up at this moment.”

‘Not preparing for losing’
But what if the ruling doesn’t go in Zuma’s favour? ”It’s an option, but we do not think about that,” Shivambu said. ”We are not preparing for losing. That’s the same as preparing for the ANC losing the elections next year.”

Regarding fears that those gathered outside the court will turn to violence if the court doesn’t rule in Zuma’s favour, Shivambu said: ”[The] ANC is going to protect everyone. We will make sure that there will be no violence.” ANC marshals will be present to enforce law and order, he added.

ANCYL leader Julius Malema has said: ”We will march with him [Zuma] to the Union Buildings. Any force that tries to block our way, we will eliminate.”

According to Shivambu, it’s wrong to interpret Malema’s words as referring to a violent reaction. He said the ANCYL only wants people to ”stand up for their rights”, and violence will not be part of that. ”It will be a peaceful day of celebrating,” he said.

However, Cosatu spokesperson Patrick Craven said on Thursday that it was too early to start planning celebrations.

He said Cosatu would join the party if the ruling was in favour of Zuma, but ”we have no idea what the outcome is”.

Regardless of the outcome, Cosatu will organise a demonstration outside the high court, from 9pm on Friday. Craven said the trade-union federation has also appointed marshals to prevent violence from breaking out.

He said that if the ruling was against Zuma, ”we will definitely take action”. This could be in the form of a national strike, but there are no definite plans yet.