South African corruption ruling turns up heat on Jacob Zuma

President may face 783 arms deal-related charges that were dropped in 2009

South Africa’s main opposition party Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane celebrates  the Pretoria high court ruling that corruption charges against President Jacob Zuma could be reinstated. Photograph: Mujahid Safodien/AFP/Getty Images

South Africa’s main opposition party Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane celebrates the Pretoria high court ruling that corruption charges against President Jacob Zuma could be reinstated. Photograph: Mujahid Safodien/AFP/Getty Images

 

South Africa’s beleaguered president, Jacob Zuma, has come under renewed pressure to stand down following a high court ruling on Friday that opens the way for 783 corruption charges to be reinstated against him.

The charges, linked to a massive arms deal that the government entered into with western arms manufacturers in 1999 that brought fraud and bribery allegations, were sensationally dropped in 2009 weeks before Mr Zuma became the country’s president.

At the time National Prosecution Authority’s (NPA) acting boss Mokotedi Mpshe said the charges were dropped because he had acquired evidence that suggested there was political interference in relation to their timing.

It is believed that in representations made to the NPA by Mr Zuma’s legal team, secretly recorded phone calls – dubbed “spy tapes” – made in 2007 between senior government officials were submitted as proof of political interference in the case.

That year Mr Zuma defeated then South African and African National Congress president Thabo Mebki to the ruling party’s top job at its elective conference. The charges, which first emerged in 2005, were reinstated against Mr Zuma shortly before the conference took place.

Friday’s ruling delivered by the high court’s deputy judge president, Aubrey Ledwaba, does not automatically mean the charges against Mr Zuma will be reinstated. However, it does compel the NPA to review its decision to drop them as it was “irrational”.

“Mr Zuma should face the charges as applied in the indictment,” Mr Ledwaba said.

Under pressure

The judge found that Mr Mpshe had dropped the charges because he came under pressure to make a decision from Mr Zuma’s counsel regarding their representations, as their client was about to become president.

“Mpshe was subjected to such pressure that he could not afford the time and space to properly apply his mind on the implications of what he was about to do,” Mr Ledwaba maintained.

The case was instigated by the main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party in 2009 shortly after Mr Zuma became president. It insisted Mr Mpshe’s reasons for withdrawing the charges were insufficient.

DA leader Mmusi Maimane has now demanded the corruption charges against Mr Zuma be reinstated, saying he “is not fit to be the president of this country”.

“The decision that they took was irrational and we still maintain that Jacob Zuma is corrupt. Jacob Zuma must face the full might of the law. He has already violated the constitution,” he said.

The ANC said it noted the judgment, but maintained “it is important to note that the court did not deal with the merits of any allegations against President Zuma nor did it make any findings declaring guilt on any matter”.

The charges against Mr Zuma are linked to his former business adviser, Shabir Shaik, who in 2005 was found guilty of soliciting bribes in return for tenders from arms manufactures, allegedly on his behalf.

Mr Shaik was found guilty and sentenced to 10 years in jail, but he was released after two years on medical grounds.

Military hardware

The arms deal itself saw the government acquire, among other items, 26 Gripen fighter aircraft, 24 Hawk lead-in fighter trainer aircraft for the South African air force and frigates and submarines for the South African navy.

Only last week a government-initiated inquiry, the Seriti Commission, into the arms deal found that there was no evidence of bribery or corruption in relation to it other than what had already been uncovered.

According to Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille, the first person to make arms deal corruption allegations, the judgment showed the inquiry was “nothing but an instrument used by the ANC to investigate itself and to find the ANC not guilty”.

The NPA has yet to comment on the ruling.