The Supreme Court of Appeal will consider a case Thursday that may determine whether President Jacob Zuma should stand trial on graft charges that were dropped by the prosecutors eight years ago.
Prosecutors probed allegations that Zuma took R4.07 million in bribes from arms dealers and brought 783 charges of fraud, corruption and racketeering against him. They scrapped the case a month before he became president in May 2009, saying taped phone calls indicated the chief investigator’s actions may have been politically motivated. The court in the central city of Bloemfontein started hearing arguments on Thursday from the prosecutor’s office as to why the judges should consider hearing the appeal. Zuma’s legal team are also expected to address the court.
“There’s still this cloud over his head and the reinstatement of these charges would cause even more problems for him,” Zakhele Ndlovu, a political science lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said by phone. It could also reduce the chances that he will be succeeded as head of the ruling African National Congress by Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, his preferred candidate, as “she may be perceived as guilty by association,” he said.
The biggest opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, challenged the 2009 decision to scrap the case and the High Court in Pretoria ruled last year that the National Prosecuting Authority acted irrationally, a finding that opened the way for the charges to be reinstated. The president then directly approached the Supreme Court to review the case. The court isn’t obligated to hear the appeal but if it does, argument may proceed immediately.
Zuma could still take the case to the Constitutional Court should the Supreme Court refuse to hear his appeal.
The revival of the charges will add to pressure on Zuma, 75, who’s faced calls to quit following a succession of scandals, including a finding by the Constitutional Court that he violated his oath of office by refusing to repay taxpayer funds spent on his private home.
He’s also survived two bids to oust him from within the leadership of the ANC since November and last month saw off an opposition motion of no confidence that was backed by at least two dozen ANC lawmakers.
Zuma is due to step down as ANC leader in December and as president in 2019. If it’s announced that he will stand trial, a campaign to install Dlamini-Zuma, his ex-wife and the former chairwoman of the African Union commission, could be undermined, according to Ndlovu.
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