Zuma to know fate next year

African National Congress (ANC) president Jacob Zuma could know on January 12 next year whether he will be back in court to face corruption and fraud charges.

The Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) on Friday reserved judgement in the National Prosecuting Authority’s (NPA) appeal against Judge Chris Nicholson’s “activist judgement” that declared Zuma’s charges unlawful and confirmed Zuma’s inference of political meddling in his case.

Judge Louis Harms said the court plans to deliver judgement on January 12, “maybe a bit later, but nothing earlier”.

It was a tough day for Zuma’s counsel, Kemp J Kemp, who looked battered after two hours of gruelling questioning by a challenging bench.

Kemp’s presentations ended with Judge Azhar Cachalia telling him and Zuma that they want to “conduct a trial through representations”.

The prosecutors working on the Zuma case looked relieved afterward and the general feeling from legal observers attending the hearing was that Nicholson’s judgement was likely to be overturned by the SCA.

A ruling in Zuma’s favour would make his progress to the Union Buildings unstoppable.

But, if the SCA upholds the appeal, the NPA could recharge him immediately, denting his image, disrupting the ANC’s election campaign and setting the scene for more conflict between the party and the judiciary.

A successful appeal would severely test the ANC’s commitment to the rule of law and judicial independence. After a series of attacks on the “counter-revolutionary” courts by the ANC and its allies earlier this year, its youth wing began to describe Nicholson as “beautiful” and “sober” days before his ruling.

Earlier, Judge Louis Harms lashed out at Nicholson’s findings that former president Thabo Mbeki and his Cabinet conspired against Zuma.

Harms, who is the most senior of the five judges hearing the NPA’s appeal, told Kemp J Kemp that Nicholson might have thought he was doing Zuma a favour by ruling on issues that weren’t even argued before him.

After a ruling on September 12 that Zuma wasn’t wrong to infer political interference in his prosecution, a number of legal commentators criticised Nicholson for making findings on matters that were not canvassed before him.

This was also one of the NPA’s grounds of appeal—that Nicholson’s findings were unsubstantiated and irrelevant.

Now Harms has shown his hand during his questioning of Kemp, attacking any attempts to defend Nicholson’s findings of political inference by Mbeki, former justice ministers Penuell Maduna and Brigitte Mabandla, and the entire executive under Mbeki.

Harms: “Were there any allegations in the papers [before Nicholson] that Maduna was involved [in political interference]?”

Kemp: “No, M’lord.”

Harms: “So he [Nicholson] was not allowed to make any ruling on that. There were also no allegations made about Mabandla. Her name doesn’t even appear on the papers!”

Harms also said he found no direct accusations against Mbeki or his Cabinet in the court papers filed in Pietermaritzburg.

Harms also grilled Kemp on why Zuma thought he had a legitimate expectation to make representations to the NPA. Kemp said that in a constitutional dispensation, national directors of public prosecution are political appointees and should be open to scrutiny.

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