/ 4 February 2009

Zuma trial set for August

African National Congress (ANC) presidential candidate Jacob Zuma will emerge from the forthcoming election with a criminal prosecution hanging over his head after the Pietermaritzburg High Court provisionally set his trial down for August 25.

On the same day the ruling party’s leader was expected to apply for a permanent stay of prosecution.

Senior counsel for arms company Thint, Michael Collins, said the company would return to the court on June 24 for its own permanent stay of prosecution application.

Two corporate entities were implicated in the state’s investigation.

The plan was to consolidate the two sets of charges into one.

Zuma faces charges of corruption, fraud, money laundering and racketeering.

He had arrived at the high court by 9am. Zuma greeted lawyers and ANC members present in the court to support him, after having slipping into the building through a back door.

He later took his place in the dock with Thint’s boss, Pierre Moynot.

Zuma seemed confident, with even a few laughs being heard as he chatted to Moynot while photographers snapped pictures of the two.

After Judge Leona Theron handed down her decision, Zuma left the court quietly after a quick smile at Moynot.

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.

Some of the charges relate to alleged corrupt payments offered by Thint to Zuma in return for protection during a government probe into alleged irregularities in the country’s multibillion-rand arms deal.

Zuma’s lawyers are seeking to appeal the SCA ruling in the Constitutional Court and on Tuesday filed papers asking for leave to appeal. The NPA has 10 days to oppose Zuma’s appeal application.

ANC general secretary Gwede Mantashe, KwaZulu-Natal Premier S’bu Ndebele, the province’s finance minister Zweli Mkhize and Minority Front leader Amichand Rajbansi were among those present at the Pietermaritzburg High Court.

Hundreds of supporters waiting in the rain outside the court would be treated to an address by Zuma after his appearance, ANC spokesperson Carl Niehaus said.

The party earlier said it expected 15 000 supporters to gather, but 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.

The ANC planned to use Zuma’s court appearance to hold a big rally to sell its manifesto to the people. Speakers would include Mantashe, Congress of South African Trade Unions secretary general Zwelinzima Vavi and many other provincial ANC leaders.

ANC spokesperson Jesse Duarte said Mantashe would deliver a ”central message” to supporters later in the day. — Sapa