The next time African National Congress (ANC) president Jacob Zuma steps into the Pietermaritzburg High Court, it may well be as the president of the Republic of South Africa.
”When Zuma comes back to court in August he will come back as the president of this country and the judges will have to address him as the president,” the party’s youth league president, Julius Malema, said on Wednesday shortly after Zuma’s brief appearance in court.
”I just want to ask those who are behind this case if they would be proud to prosecute their own president, and embarrass their own country.”
Earlier Judge Leona Theron provisionally set down Zuma’s next court appearance for August 25, when he was expected to apply for a permanent stay of prosecution.
Senior counsel for French arms company Thint, Michael Collins, said they would return to the court on June 24 for their own permanent stay of prosecution application.
Inkatha Freedom Party leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi warned that there could be dire consequences for the country should Zuma face his trial as the president of the country.
”It will also be difficult in South Africa for our political system to project and promote honesty and integrity as its paramount values, when the sitting president is being prosecuted on corruption charges,” he said.
”It is not only in the interest of Mr Zuma, but in the interest of the entire country that this matter be finalised, sooner rather than later.”
Political analyst Professor Ufo Okeke Uzodike told journalists outside court that in the likely event that Zuma becomes president, it would not be positive for the country if he spent a ”substantial” amount of his time in court.
”One only hopes for a speedy resolution of this case. If it continues to drag on, it will take a lot of energy away from Mr Zuma and his group [when they should be] devoting their time to the affairs of the state, and it’s not a good thing.”
He added that Zuma would not be the first president to face criminal charges in court.
Zuma, meanwhile, refused to step down as ANC president and presidential forerunner.
”What has happened to me is that certain people have thrown this dark cloud to me with the aim of demonising me,” Zuma told a 5 000-strong crowd outside the court.
”So if I step aside, a bad precedent will be created. People will know that if you hate somebody, you just throw a dark cloud and it is the end of the story.
”I am not going to step aside simply because I have not been found guilty by any court of law. I respect the Constitution and I understand it.”
Zuma faces charges of corruption, fraud, money laundering and racketeering.
The criminal charges against him and Thint were reinstated after the Supreme Court of Appeal ruled in favour of an appeal by the National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP).
The NDPP had challenged a ruling last year by Pietermaritzburg High Court Judge Chris Nicholson, which held that the charges against Zuma were invalid.
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.
National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) spokesperson Tlali Tlali said if Zuma were to win his Constitutional Court application on the validity of the prosecution against him, two options would be considered by the authority.
One is that the NPA could decide to invite Zuma to make representations if the Constitutional Court finds that Zuma’s interpretation of Section 179 (5)d of the Constitution was correct.
This section sets out the right of a person facing prosecution to make representations to the prosecuting authority before being charged.
Zuma has been arguing that the decision to prosecute him is invalid because when the authority reversed an earlier decision not to charge him, he wasn’t asked to make representations.
Or, said Tlali: ”We could discontinue the prosecution.”
However, he added that it was too early to make these decisions because they did not know what orders would come out of the Constitutional Court.
The justices of the Constitutional Court still had to decide whether they would hear Zuma’s appeal against a Supreme Court of Appeal judgement that disagreed with Zuma’s argument.
This led to the charges against him being ”unfrozen”. Police spokesperson Superintendent Henry Budhram said no incidents of violence had been reported outside the Pietermaritzburg court.
ANC spokesperson Jessie Duarte described the crowd as ”disciplined”. — Sapa