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04 Feb 2009 07:23
Hundreds of supporters of Jacob Zuma gathered outside the Pietermaritzburg High Court on Wednesday morning where the African National Congress (ANC) leader will make a brief appearance.
The party earlier said it expected 15 000 supporters to gather outside the court when the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) would square up to Zuma’s and French arms company Thint’s lawyers to have the corruption charges placed back on the court roll.
However, an M&G Online reporter outside the court said that by 9.30am there were only about 500 people milling about in what looked like a low-key affair.
Zuma faces charges of corruption, fraud, money laundering and racketeering.
He had arrived at the high court by 9am and slipped around the back. His appearance was expected to take no longer than 30 minutes.
Wednesday’s court appearance follows January’s overturning by the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) of a ruling made last year by Pietermaritzburg High Court Judge Chris Nicholson, which held that the charges against the ANC president were invalid.
The SCA last month delivered a scathing judgement against Nicholson, describing his finding of political meddling as “erronous”, “unwarranted” and “incomprehensible”.
The January ruling allowed the NPA to continue pursuing its corruption case against Zuma.
Zuma’s lawyers are seeking to appeal this in the Constitutional Court and on Tuesday filed papers asking for leave to appeal.
On Wednesday Judge Leona Theron was likely to adjourn the case until after the election, when Zuma’s legal team would make an application for a permanent stay of prosecution. If successful, Zuma’s legal woes would be over.
Earlier ANC spokesperson Carl Niehaus said the party was worried about the way its president had been treated by the justice system.
“He has also been subjected to a lot of public trial. We believe that the time has come to bring this matter to [its] conclusion,” said Niehaus.
He also told SABC radio the party believed Zuma could not get a fair trial.
“There’s been so many media trials being conducted against Mr Zuma that his rights have been so severely damaged, that it is unlikely that he is ever going to be able to get a free and a fair trial,” said Niehaus.
According to ANC spokesperson Jessie Duarte, a “fairly disciplined” crowd was expected outside the court.
At least 300 supporters had gathered at Freedom Square by 7am, with some dancing as music played over a loudspeaker while others carried umbrellas against a light drizzle.
Rain had been predicted for the greater Pietermaritzburg area on Wednesday.
Roads leading to the court were barricaded and police were monitoring the area.
Police spokesperson Superintendent Henry Budhram said there was “sufficient” police at the venue and that it had been calm outside the court during the night.
On Tuesday night, there was a poor turnout at a vigil with less than 100 people milling around Freedom Square.
The ANC will use Zuma’s court appearance to hold a big rally to sell its manifesto to the people.
Speakers will include ANC general secretary Gwede Mantashe, Congress of South African Trade Unions secretary general Zwelinzima Vavi, and many other provincial ANC leaders.
Duarte said Mantashe would deliver a “central message” to supporters later in the day.
“We are also expecting national ANC executive members to come and show their support to our president.”—Sapa
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