South African prosecutor seeks to appeal Jacob Zuma corruption ruling

Move by the South African National Prosecution Authority has led to accusations it is protecting the president

The South African National Prosecution Authority (NPA) is seeking leave to appeal a high court ruling that it reinstate corruption charges against President Jacob Zuma, which has led to accusations it is protecting him.

The 783 corruption charges laid against Mr Zuma were linked to a multi-billion euro government arms deal done in 1999. However, they were withdrawn by the NPA in 2009, just weeks before the African National Congress leader was inaugurated as South African president for the first time.

The NPA cited political interference in the timing of the serving of the charges against Mr Zuma in 2007, when he was contesting the ANC leadership against then party president Thabo Mbeki, as the reason behind its decision to withdraw the charges.

The charges first arose in 2005 when Mr Zuma was deputy president of South Africa, and he was subsequently sacked by Mr Mebki.


The main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), set in motion a legal process in 2009 to try to have the charges reinstated, saying there was no good reason to drop them in the first place.

And last month the DA recorded a significant victory in relation to the matter when Gauteng High Court judge Aubrey Ledwaba described the NPA's 2009 decision as "irrational," and compelled the prosecuting authority to reconsider. "Mr Zuma should face the charges as applied in the indictment," Mr Ledwaba said. Corruption charges Effectively, the court ordered that the corruption charges against Mr Zuma, who has faced a wave of criticism in recent months and was found to have broken his oath of office by the constitutional court, be reinstated.

However, on Monday, National Director of Public Prosecutions Shaun Abrahams told reporters in Pretoria that prosecutors should be able to exercise discretion over whether an investigation should continue.

Furthermore, he reiterated the view held by the then acting NPA boss Mokotedi Mpshe in 2009 – that the process of charging Mr Zuma was abused for political reasons – and insisted the high court had failed to fully appreciate this when making its ruling last month.

On the basis of these grounds, which had “far-reaching ramifications”, Mr Abrahams said he was seeking leave to appeal the high courts ruling to the Supreme Court of Appeal.

The DA has described Mr Abraham’s decision as a “blatant delaying tactic to shield Jacob Zuma from facing the 783 charges of corruption, fraud and racketeering” and maintained the reasons given for the appeal were “a farce”.

However, Mr Abrahams refuted the DA’s view. “I categorically deny that there is any attempt from the NPA to try delay this matter,” he told reporters, adding that he had obtained legal advice from senior and junior counsel on whether to appeal.

The NPA’s decision will not only work in Mr Zuma’s favour, but also the ANC’s. To head into a season of canvassing for the August 3rd local election with its leader facing hundreds of corruption charges would seriously undermine its efforts to win votes at the ballot box, where it is expected to be challenged like never before.

Bill Corcoran

Bill Corcoran

Bill Corcoran is a contributor to The Irish Times based in South Africa