/ 10 August 2021

Zuma’s trial postponed over health risk

Safrica Politics Court Crime Zuma
Former president Jacob Zuma’s (right) says he is a political prisoner. (Rogan Ward/AFP)

Former president Jacob Zuma’s corruption case has been adjourned until 9 September because of his ill health owing to an undisclosed condition, which is potentially life threatening and required his hospitalisation outside the Estcourt Correctional Centre.

Zuma, 79, was admitted to hospital on Friday for treatment by the South African Military Health Service (SAMHS), which is responsible for his medical care because of his status as a former head of state.

On Tuesday Judge Piet Koen granted the postponement, which will allow Zuma’s doctors to compile a medical report on his condition, for which surgery has been postponed for more than 18 months, according to an affidavit submitted to the virtual hearing of the case in the Pietermaritzburg high court.

According to the order issued by Koen on Tuesday, the medical report will be made available to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) by 20 August.

The NPA will then be allowed to appoint its own medical expert to examine Zuma and ascertain whether he will be able to participate in open court when the case resumes.

Should Zuma be declared fit, the matter will resume on 9 September, with the hearing of an application by his legal team to have prosecutor Billy Downer SC removed from the case.

Should the medical report indicate that Zuma is not fit to stand trial, another postponement of the case may take place until his condition allows him to do so. 

However, this will be dependent on whether the state chooses to accept the findings of the medical report.

Zuma is currently serving a 15-month jail sentence for contempt over his refusal to abide by subpoenas to make a further appearance at the Zondo commission into state capture. 

The former president is also facing a potential 15 years in jail over the corruption case, stemming from the 1990s arms deal and a series of payments made to his financial advisor, Schabir Shaik, and French arms company Thint (now Thales).

Shaik was jailed for 15 years over the payments, which were made to Zuma while he was KwaZulu-Natal economic development MEC and ANC national chairperson.

Despite the absence of Zuma from the virtual hearing, a ring of steel surrounded the high court precinct in Pietermaritzburg, where he had been scheduled to appear. 

Zuma’s supporters also stayed away, with a planned show of solidarity with Zuma called off on Sunday when news broke that he would definitely not be appearing in court.

In an affidavit submitted to court, Zuma’s doctor, Brigadier General Mcebisi Mdutywa said Zuma was undergoing “extensive medical evaluation and care as a result of his condition that needed an extensive emergency procedure that has been delayed for 18 months due to compounding legal matters and recent incarceration”.

Mdutywa said the procedure “cannot be delayed any longer, as it carries a significant risk to his life”.

Mdutywa said Zuma’s condition was being constantly monitored and that the treatment he required should take about six months “to restore his health”.