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South Africa To Try Zuma On Corruption Charges

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Will South Africa’s ex-president Jacob Zuma ever stand trial? The 79-year-old Zulu, is believed by many to be doing everything he can to delay that deadline.

Forced to resign in 2018 after a series of corruption scandals, Zuma is due in court in Pietermaritzburg on Monday to face 16 charges of fraud, influence peddling and extortion in connection with the purchase of fighter jets, patrol boats and military equipment from the French group Thales when he was still vice-president.

But just one month before this trial, concerning bribes dating back to 1999, all his lawyers, as one man, gave up representing him at the end of April. Without the slightest explanation.

But just one month before this trial, concerning bribes dating back to 1999, all his lawyers, as one man, gave up representing him at the end of April. Without the slightest explanation.

Another manoeuvre? Nothing has filtered out about their reasons but the former president (2009-2018) could reasonably ask for a new postponement, the time to reorganize his defense.

“It is almost certain that he – or his new team of lawyers if he has one – will ask for a postponement and that this postponement will be granted,” said lawyer James Grant, interviewed by AFP on the various possible judicial scenarios.

Zuma has been defying the authorities in recent months from his Nkandla home in rural Zululand, which was refurbished at taxpayers’ expense for 20 million euros during his presidency under the pretext of “security” work.

The jovial Zuma, who last week appeared on TikTok dancing with his granddaughters, seems delighted to taunt his opponents. His middle name, Gedleyihlekisa, is Zulu for “one who laughs while crushing his enemies”.

Despite multiple accusations of corruption, this self-taught anti-apartheid fighter, a herdsman who rose through the ranks without going to school, continues to enjoy fervent support and influence.

“Most South Africans understand what it means to be an outsider, to not have the right connections,” notes Sithembile Mbete of the University of Pretoria, to illustrate an inescapable facet of his popularity.

During the ANC’s time in exile under apartheid, “JZ” was the feared head of intelligence, dealing with traitors and informers. He also spent ten years on Robben Island as a political prisoner.

In 2018, before the end of his second term as president, he fell from grace, caught up in a terrible spiral of scandal, double-dealing and abuse of power. But having built a network of loyal followers, among parliamentarians and politicians.

“He holds a lot of secrets that he has threatened to reveal,” says political scientist Asanda Ngoasheng.

Since then, he has been constantly playing cat-and-mouse with the anti-corruption commission, which he set up in early 2018 just before his downfall, in an attempt to convince them that he had nothing to hide.

The growing tension caused by Zuma’s repeated refusal to testify has led to a stalemate, even though he has been called directly or indirectly by more than 30 witnesses before the advisory commission, whose findings may however be passed on to the prosecution.

Zuma is no stranger to the courts. In 2006, he was acquitted of raping the HIV-positive daughter of one of his former comrades in arms. He had scandalised the country by claiming that he had “taken a shower” after unprotected sex in the belief that he was avoiding HIV infection.

In the bribery trial, which opens on Monday, he is accused of pocketing more than four million rand (235,000 euros at the current rate) from Thales, which was one of the companies awarded the lucrative contract worth 2.8 billion euros.

Since his indictment, the ex-president has launched a series of appeals to have the prosecution, in which Thales is also accused of bribery, extortion and money laundering, quashed.