Timeline: How the spy tapes saga continues to haunt Zuma since 2001

In April, the Pretoria high delivered a vital judgment on whether prosecutors should consider, again, whether to pursue President Jacob Zuma on corruption charges relating to the arms deal – charges that can carry serious jail time. Zuma has always protested his innocence, even as his financial adviser went to jail for bribing him. 

In 2009, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) dropped all charges against Zuma, saying recordings of intercepted telephone calls showed his prosecution was being manipulated for political ends. 

In March, the NPA again argued that the discussions, especially those involving then Scorpions head Leonard McCarthy on when to indict Zuma for maximum impact, were so repugnant to justice that Zuma could never be prosecuted. The Democratic Alliance countered, as it has for years, that the seriousness of the charges against Zuma demand he stand trial.

The arms deal has haunted President Jacob Zuma for 15 years, though only in the latter part because of the spy tapes saga. This is a timeline of how the saga unfolded:

2001 
Law enforcement agencies in four different countries raid the offices of Thomson-CSF (which later became known as Thales) in a joint investigation with Zuma’s financial adviser, and funder, Schabir Shaik, at its heart. 

2003
The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) pursues Shaik but not Zuma, saying it would not do so despite “a “prima facie” case” against him.

2005
Shaik is convicted on charges including bribing Zuma. The NPA, under a new head, announces that Zuma will be prosecuted; President Thabo Mbeki fires Zuma as his deputy.

2006
The Zuma case is thrown out of court because prosecutors are not ready to proceed. 

2007  
The Supreme Court of Appeal gives prosecutors the green light to use evidence obtained through disputed search and seizures. Zuma is served with an indictment shortly after unseating Mbeki as president of the ANC.


The since disbanded Scorpions raid President Jacob Zuma’s house in Forest Town, Johannesburg. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

2008
The Constitutional Court rules that raids on Zuma, which produced what was thought to be crucial evidence, were legal. But the Pietermaritzburg high court rules that there had been procedural unfairness in the way Zuma was pursued. Mbeki is removed as president.

2009
The Supreme Court of Appeal overturns the Pietermaritzburg ruling, leaving the way clear for Zuma to be prosecuted again. But the NPA announces it will discontinue any prosecution because of abuses of process revealed in what later come to be known as the “spy tapes”. Only excerpts of the tapes are released. The Democratic Alliance tries but fails to have the decision overturned, and starts the process of gathering information for a new challenge.

2014
After many court challenges, counter-challenges and appeals, the DA takes delivery of the spy tapes, and again starts gearing up to challenge the dropping of charges against Zuma.

March 2016
The high court in Pretoria hears arguments from the DA on why Zuma should be charged with corruption again and arguments from the NPA on why he should not be pursued. 

April 29 2016
A full bench of the high court delivers a devastating judgment highlighting contradictory versions of how the NPA came to decide not to prosecute Zuma, and slamming the decision as irrational and, at times, also inexplicable. It overturns that decision in no uncertain terms. Read moreNPA’s decision to drop Zuma charges ‘irrational’, set aside

May 23 2016
NPA head Shaun Abrahams announces that the body is already in the process of filing an appeal to that high court decision before the Supreme Court of Appeal. The matter is too important to take directly to the Constitutional Court, he says, even as it seems inevitable that it will end up there, again. Read moreNPA will appeal Zuma spy tapes judgment

That evening, the presidency announced that Zuma applied for leave to appeal the decision of the Pretoria high court. The statement said: “The President believes that the decision of the Court affects him directly and is of a strong view that the Court erred in several respects in its decision.”

June 24 2016
The high court in Pretoria dismisses the NPA and President Zuma’s application for leave to appeal the April 2009 judgment. Judge President Aubrey Ledwaba rules that the appeal was not based on merits and did not have reasonable prospects of success. 

President Jacob Zuma has filed his replying affidavit to the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein, challenging a court ruling that he should face corruption charges.

In June, the High Court in Pretoria dismissed Zuma’s leave to appeal its corruption decision.

August 31 2016
The NPA and Zuma’s lawyers seek leave to appeal the Supreme Court of Appeal’s ruling on April 29 that the decision to discontinue the prosecution against Zuma on 783 corruption charges should be reviewed and set aside. Zuma files his replying affidavit to the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein, challenging a court ruling that he should face corruption charges.

October 12 2016
The Supreme Court of Appeal veered from normal processes when, instead of ruling on President Jacob Zuma’s application for leave to appeal the spy tapes ruling, it decided that Zuma’s lawyers must argue before the judges in open court

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Phillip De Wet
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