/ 12 January 2009

Court opens way for new Zuma charges

South Africa's appeals court on Monday overturned a judge's ruling dismissing graft charges against African National Congress leader Jacob Zuma.

Read the full judgement

South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeals on Monday overturned a judge’s ruling dismissing graft charges against ANC leader Jacob Zuma, opening the way for fresh corruption charges against him.

The ruling comes only months before a general election and re-opening the case could damage Zuma’s image at a crucial moment.

The court said in its judgement that a High Court judge made several errors in a September 12 2008 ruling.

”The appeal is upheld with costs,” Deputy Judge President Louis Harms said in delivering judgement.

Monday’s court ruling would be unlikely to stop Zuma being elected but could add to political uncertainty

A High Court judge dismissed bribery, fraud and other charges against Zuma in September and suggested former president Thabo Mbeki had interfered in the case, an allegation he denied.

That judgement caused a political firestorm, leading to the ousting of Mbeki as president and deeply dividing the party. An anti-Zuma faction then formed the Congress of the People party.

Zuma can still appeal to the appeals court ruling in the Constitutional Court

The SCA delivered a scathing judgement against Judge Chris Nicholson on Monday, describing his finding of political meddling in the Zuma graft case as ”erronous”, ”unwarranted” and ”incomprehensible”.

”Political meddling was not an issue that had to be determined. Nevertheless a substantial part of his judgement dealt with this question. He changed the rules of the game, he took his eyes off the ball,” said Harms.

Harms said Nicholson’s finding that he could not exclude the possibility of political meddling in the decision to re-charge Zuma was ”incomprehensible”, that he erred in his judgement and that his findings
were ”unwarranted”.

He said Nicholson had overstepped the limits of his duty as a judge.

”The [findings] involving Dr [Penuell] Maduna, Mr Mbeki and all the other members of Cabinet … were not based on any evidence or allegations. They were instead part of the judge’s own conspiracy theory and not one advanced by Mr Zuma,” said Harms.

The rand weakened sharply after the ruling. The rand fell to an intra-day low of 9.98 against the dollar compared to 9.9195 before the ruling.

Nothing to do with the guilt
The ANC said it had noted the judgement and said it was important to note that it had nothing to do with the guilt or otherwise of the ANC president.

”Nor does it make any pronouncements on the merits of the charges previously brought by the NPA,” said the party in a statement.

”The ANC respects the decision of the court without reservation. The ANC and its president reserves the right to pursue all options available in law. The ANC reiterates its position that the judgement will not affect the decision of the ANC that Zuma be the ANC’s presidential candidate for the 2009 elections.”

”The ANC will not accept that a decision democratically taken by the ANC membership at its national conference be reversed on the basis of untested allegations.”

Leon Joubert, Democratic Alliance spokesperson on justice, said: ”I concur fully with Judge Harmse. In principle it is a very sound judgement.

”What will happen now is they will have to recharge Mr Zuma. It is back to square one.”

He added that the judge made some interesting points in his ruling, saying that Mr Zuma was never prevented from having his day in court.