Supporters of former South African president Jacob Zuma plan to march to the Durban High Court on Friday, where Zuma will face corruption charges related to a decades-old arms deal.
Zuma plans to legally challenge a decision to prosecute him on 16 charges, including fraud, racketeering, corruption and money laundering, that stem from the $2.5 billion deal.
The case, which is to be heard in Zuma’s home province of Kwa-Zulu Natal, is a dramatic development on a continent where leaders rarely face their accusers in court.
Religious organisations and pro-Zuma lobbyists held a night vigil on Thursday and planned to march to the court in the morning to protest against what they say is a politically motivated witch hunt.
“We want these cases to finish because we believe the reason why he is being charged is because he’s been pushing for radical economic transformation,” said Thobile Mthembu, 40, unemployed.
Around 100 people wearing T-shirts bearing Zuma’s portrait and the colours of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) sang “leave Zuma alone” at Albert Park in the port city of Durban.
“Guilty or not guilty, we have to support him until the end,” said 26-year-old student, Richard Ngobese, draped in an ANC flag.
Police plan to deploy in strength at the Friday march, which is expected to attract more than 2,000 people.
“We are to make sure citizens are safe,” Kwa-Zulu Natal police spokeswoman Thembeka Mbhele said. “I want to appeal to the marchers to make sure they work hand-in-hand with the police. If anyone commits a crime, they will be arrested.”
Zuma was deputy president at the time of the 1990s arms deal, which has cast a shadow over politics in South Africa for years. Schabir Shaikh, his former financial adviser, was found guilty and jailed in 2005 for trying to solicit bribes for Zuma from a French arms company.
Charges were filed against Zuma but then dropped by national prosecutors shortly before he successfully ran for president in 2009.
Read Zuma’s many scandals
Since his election nine years ago, his opponents have fought a lengthy legal battle to have the charges reinstated. Zuma countered with his own legal challenges, but prosecutors re-filed the charges after Zuma was forced from power by his own party in February.