, CAPE TOWN, Apr 7 – South Africa’s presidential frontrunner Jacob Zuma heads back on the campaign trail Tuesday free of graft charges just two weeks before polls that his ruling party is expected to sweep.
Zuma is tipped to become president after general elections on April 22 which the African National Congress (ANC) is likely to win just shy of the nearly 70 percent majority it now holds in parliament.
Prosecutors Monday dropped charges of corruption, fraud, and money-laundering after an eight-year investigation into Zuma, and presented wire-tapped conversations that appear to show political meddling in the case.
The 66-year-old will appear in the Durban High Court on Tuesday morning where the decision will be formally endorsed before he briefs the press.
Zuma kept out of the public eye Monday but the ANC celebrated the withdrawal as a victory, saying the corruption case was meant to frustrate him from becoming president.
Analysts believe the move will only boost the allegiance of his supporters, while further alienating detractors who say his innocence has not been proven on claims of bribe-taking linked to an arms deal.
"It would consolidate support for Zuma, whose supporters would see it as a vindication," said political analyst
Adam Habib of the Human Sciences Research Council.
"For people elsewhere, his innocence wasn’t proved."
Smaller opposition parties are trying to turn the announcement into campaign fodder in the hopes of winning over the few remaining undecided voters.
The new ANC breakaway the Congress of the People (COPE) urged South Africans to use the "the only weapon in their hands" at the upcoming polls.
"They need to vote against the abuse of power, the lowering of democratic standards, and the political bankruptcy of the ANC leadership," it said in a statement.
Despite widespread publicity over COPE’s split from the ruling party, it has so far waged a low-key campaign, with polls predicting it will take only around 10 percent of the vote.
The main opposition Democratic Alliance, which currently holds about 13 percent, have vowed to ask the courts to review the prosecutors’ decision.
DA leader Helen Zille plans to go to court on Tuesday to challenge a decision that she says "does not appear to be rationally connected to the information" in the investigation.
Zuma has long portrayed himself as a victim of a political conspiracy, allowing him now to claim vindication, analysts said.
"It will certainly affirm Zuma supporters and there will be major celebrations now. It is confirmation that Zuma is a victim," said Dirk Kotze of the University of South Africa.
The dropping of the charges may only harden the split between voters with most having made up their minds long ago, said Bennitto Motitsoe of the Institute of Democracy in South Africa.
"It has no impact on whether people, based on the allegations, have supported or not supported Zuma," he said.
"There are those likely to shift their votes towards Mr Zuma, I don’t think it will reduce the votes."