Zuma back in court over graft

September 12, 2008 12:00 am

, JOHANNESBURG, September 12 – South Africa’s ruling party chief Jacob Zuma, whose supporters vowed to crush any opposition to his becoming president of the country, will hear Friday if corruption charges against him will go to court.

Zuma’s legal team asked the court to declare his pending prosecution illegal, arguing that authorities did not follow constitutional rules when recharging him in the long-running investigation.

The charismatic leader is expected to become South Africa’s president in next year’s general elections after ousting President Thabo Mbeki – who fired him as deputy president in 2005 – as leader of yje African National Congress (ANC).

Zuma faces 16 charges ranging from money-laundering to racketeering but further legal wrangles are expected if Friday’s court hearing does not rule in Zuma’s favour.

This is because Zuma’s legal team can still appeal a negative ruling on Friday and also apply for a permanent stay of prosecution.

Thousands of supporters were holding a night vigil Thursday outside the Pietermaritzburg high court to support the politician who they claim is the victim of a political conspiracy.

This week the party’s youth league said it would crush and eliminate anyone who tried to prevent Zuma from taking office.

"We will eliminate any forces that come our way," Julius Malema, president of the ANC youth league, was quoted in The Star newspaper as saying.

"We will crush you, and it doesn’t matter who you are (…) So be careful when you deal with Zuma, because you are dealing with a president in waiting," said Malema, who pledged to kill for the politician in June.

Zuma’s supporters forced motorists out of cars and intimidated bystanders and workers to join a march in support of his bid to have the charges withdrawn in the coastal city of Durban on Wednesday, The Times newspaper reported.

Two police officers were seriously injured after being stoned by marchers, the newspaper reported.

Analysts say that there is little chance that the case could reach trial before next year’s elections.

Law professor Mike Cowling, of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said a ruling on a permanent stay would not be likely before April – when South Africa’s elections have traditionally taken place. A separate appeal could take up to two years, he added.

Under current law, the politician would not be able to serve as president if sentenced to a jail term of more than 12 months.

With the hefty muscle of South Africa’s trade unions and youth leagues behind him, Zuma took power of the ANC last December.

He was charged again on corruption charges days after toppling Mbeki who was seeking a third term as party leader.

He was sacked in 2005 after his former financial advisor was handed a 15-year prison sentence for paying him bribes.

Zuma has been investigated since 2001 for corruption, the main charge being that he received bribes for protecting French arms company Thint in an investigation into a controversial arms deal.

His legal team had been about to launch a stay of prosecution in 2006, when an original corruption case against him was struck off the roll.

Zuma has been involved in several legal battles, including a dramatic rape acquittal in 2006 after a trial in which he admitted sleeping with an HIV-positive family friend and showering after sex to prevent infection.



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