Former South African President Jacob Zuma will face trial on 16 charges including graft and racketeering after prosecutors announced they’re pursuing a case shelved nine years ago amid allegations of political interference.
The decision on Friday compounded Zuma’s dramatic fall from power after he was forced to step down as president last month and was replaced by new ruling party leader, Cyril Ramaphosa. That, and a commission of inquiry into alleged undue influence by Zuma’s friends the Guptas over his administration, will bolster the new president’s campaign against corruption.
“This announcement today is a definite indication that the tide has been turning and this in line with Ramaphosa’s new political regime in place,” said Susan Booysen, a political science professor at the University of Witwatersrand’s School of Governance. “I don’t think Ramaphosa was directly involved in this decision, but once political power changes at the top then the rest of the political game changes as well.”
The move to pursue the charges came after the Supreme Court of Appeal in October upheld a lower court ruling that the decision to drop the charges in 2009 was “irrational” and that the political considerations that had tainted the investigation were irrelevant to the integrity of the case. While the order paved the way for a trial to proceed, prosecutors allowed Zuma to make representations as to why he shouldn’t be indicted.
Zuma failed to convince the National Prosecuting Authority not to pursue the case, chief prosecutor Shaun Abrahams told reporters in Pretoria, the capital.
“I am of the view that there are reasonable prospects of a successful prosecution of Mr. Zuma,” he said.
NPA officials in the eastern KwaZulu-Natal province will now make the necessary arrangements for Zuma to appear in court to face 12 charges of fraud, one of racketeering, two of corruption and one of money laundering.
The NPA spent eight years investigating allegations that Zuma, 75, took 4.07 million rand ($341,000) in bribes from arms dealers and charged him with corruption, racketeering, fraud and money laundering. It abandoned the case months before he became president, saying taped phone calls indicated that chief investigator Leonard McCarthy may have used the allegations to frustrate Zuma’s efforts to win control of the African National Congress.
“If he has money for lawyers, Zuma still could try and use legal avenues” to delay proceedings, said Pierre de Vos, a law professor at the University of Cape Town. “He could ask the court for a permanent stay of prosecution or argue that the decision to proceed with his trial was irrational.”
Zuma, who was also implicated in a succession of other scandals, resigned as president on Feb. 14 under pressure from the ANC following its election of a new leadership in December. He has denied wrongdoing.
“This is an important victory for the rule of law,” said Phephelaphi Dube, Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights. “It’s a step in the right direction.”
Mmusi Maimane, the leader of the Democratic Alliance, the main opposition party, described the decision as “a victory for all who have fought for years for Jacob Zuma to face accountability for his crimes.”
The ANC called for the NPA to be given the space to conduct its work unhindered and said all South Africans should be presumed innocent until and if proven guilty.
“This strengthens the image of Ramaphosa being a new breath of fresh air in the country, but the war is not won,” Booysen said.