Zuma seek­ing to dodge graft charges again

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS - By Su­san Njanji

South Africa’s em­bat­tled pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma goes to court on Thurs­day in a fresh at­tempt to fend off the re­in­state­ment of 783 graft charges re­lat­ing to a 1990s arms deal. The coun­try’s main op­po­si­tion party, the Demo­cratic Al­liance (DA), has sought in 11 court ap­pear­ances since 2009 to re­ac­ti­vate the charges over con­tro­ver­sial post-apartheid mil­i­tary con­tracts, which have dogged Zuma for much of his time in govern­ment. In 2005 his for­mer fi­nan­cial ad­vi­sor Sch­abir Shaik was con­victed for fa­cil­i­tat­ing bribes in ex­change for the con­tracts and sen­tenced to 15 years in prison. He was later re­leased on med­i­cal pa­role. The pres­i­dent, who is ac­cused of cor­rup­tion, fraud, mon­ey­laun­der­ing and rack­e­teer­ing, has al­ways in­sisted he is in­no­cent.

Zuma and other govern­ment of­fi­cials were ac­cused of tak­ing kick-backs from the $5 bil­lion (4.2 bil­lion eu­ros) pur­chase of fighter jets, pa­trol boats and other arms man­u­fac­tured by five European firms, in­clud­ing Bri­tish mil­i­tary equip­ment maker BAE sys­tems and French com­pany Thales. Charges were first brought against Zuma in 2005 but dropped by pros­e­cu­tors in 2009.

How­ever, last year the High Court in Pre­to­ria ruled that he should face the ac­cu­sa­tions. This week the Supreme Court of Ap­peal will hear ar­gu­ments for and against re­in­stat­ing the charges. It will not make a de­ci­sion for sev­eral weeks, by which time the rul­ing African Na­tional Congress (ANC) elec­tive con­fer­ence will be ap­proach­ing. An or­der re­in­stat­ing charges could cast a shadow on pro­ceed­ings - and Zuma’s pre­ferred suc­ces­sor, his ex-wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. The case is just the lat­est in a string of po­lit­i­cal and le­gal scan­dals that have dogged the pres­i­dent but failed to shake his grip on power.

In 2016 Zuma was or­dered to re­pay $24 mil­lion (22 mil­lion eu­ros) to the pub­lic purse for up­grades to his per­sonal res­i­dence that judges said showed he had dis­re­spected the con­sti­tu­tion. In­sti­tute of Se­cu­rity Stud­ies an­a­lyst Gareth New­man be­lieves his chances of suc­cess in the Supreme Court are slim. “The rul­ing of the High Court was from a full bench of ex­pe­ri­enced, re­spected judges who unan­i­mously came to the con­clu­sion that the de­ci­sion to with­draw the crim­i­nal charges against Ja­cob Zuma was ir­ra­tional,” New­man said.

“The chance of reach­ing a dif­fer­ent con­clu­sion in the Supreme Court is highly un­likely. “It’s been a strat­egy of Ja­cob Zuma to use tax­pay­ers’ money to avoid be­ing held ac­count­able in court from be­fore even be­com­ing pres­i­dent.” Zuma has sur­vived numer­ous bruis­ing court bat­tles over the years, mostly in­volv­ing graft ac­cu­sa­tions, as well as calls for him to re­sign. He has also faced crit­i­cism for sack­ing two re­spected fi­nance min­is­ters within two years. Many South Africans be­lieve those dis­missals were linked to his re­la­tion­ship with the wealthy Gupta fam­ily, which is reg­u­larly ac­cused of ex­ert­ing un­due in­flu­ence over the pres­i­dent.

Pres­sure on the pres­i­dent would reach fever pitch if the court re­in­states any of the hun­dreds of charges-par­tic­u­larly if the court rules against Zuma be­fore the ANC party’s con­fer­ence due in De­cem­ber. Zuma, 75, is ex­pected to step down as the party pres­i­dent at the end of year, al­though he will likely re­main the coun­try’s head of state un­til 2019 af­ter which he will not be el­i­gi­ble for re-elec­tion.

The party can the­o­ret­i­cally re­place him be­fore the next gen­eral elec­tion due in two years time-but with Zuma loy­al­ists oc­cu­py­ing many po­si­tions of power within the ANC it is un­likely. It would also be dam­ag­ing to the pres­i­dent’s ex-wife Dlamini-Zuma, who is seek­ing to be the next ANC pres­i­dent. “Cur­rently he is re­ally very, very un­pop­u­lar... not only among the gen­eral pub­lic but also among ANC vot­ers,” said Mari Har­ris, a pub­lic af­fairs ex­pert at Ip­sos MORI. “The reper­cus­sions will be more for his ex-wife’s cam­paign to be­come the next leader of the ANC. That will re­ally hurt her a lot.”

Zuma is sup­port­ing his ex-wife in the be­lief that she will be able to “pro­tect him from ap­pear­ing in court”, ac­cord­ing to New­man.James Selfe, the chair­man of the op­po­si­tion DA party, be­lieves Zuma will try to de­lay the process as much as pos­si­ble, to avoid prej­u­dic­ing the ANC’s choice of suc­ces­sor. “But I do think the Supreme Court will hand down its rul­ing be­fore De­cem­ber,” said Selfe, who is “op­ti­mistic” the charges will be re­in­stated. When the charges were dropped in 2009, Zuma was locked in a bit­ter fight with for­mer pres­i­dent Thabo Mbeki to se­cure lead­er­ship of the ANC. The with­drawal of the charges cleared the way for Zuma to be elected pres­i­dent just weeks later. — AFP

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