Court blow for ANC leadership hopeful Zuma

Court blow for ANC leadership hopeful Zuma

JOHANNESBURG – South Africa’s supreme court paved the way yesterday for fresh corruption charges against ANC leadership hopeful Jacob Zuma by upholding the legality of a series of search warrants.

Zuma, battling to succeed President Thabo Mbeki at the helm of the ruling ANC party next month, had been trying to stop prosecutors from using documents seized in a series of raids as potential evidence. But in a ruling handed down at the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein, a panel of judges ruled the search warrants had been correctly issued, thus removing a crucial obstacle to the bringing of fresh charges.”We are very pleased with the judgement,” National Prosecuting Authority spokesman Tlali Tlali told AFP.”What it means is that one of the major hurdles has been overcome and we should now be able to proceed and conclude the outstanding matters.”The warrants were used to seize documents at a number of addresses, including in the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius, and a lower court had previously sided with Zuma by declaring them invalid.While there was no immediate reaction from Zuma himself, supporters indicated he may contest the judgement at the constitutional court.”It does not mean that Mr Zuma is guilty of any offence,” Don Mkhwanazi, chairman of the Jacob Zuma Trust, told SABC public radio.”These are all procedural matters.”Zuma, currently number two in the African National Congress, was fired as deputy head of state in 2005 after his advisor Schabir Shaik was sentenced to 15 years in jail for corruption, and he was subsequently charged himself.Last September, a judge threw out the charges, linked to a 1999 arms deal, but the NPA has pressed ahead with its probe.Some analysts believe that fresh charges could damage Zuma’s chances at winning the presidency of the ANC, a traditional stepping stone to the post of head of state which Mbeki must relinquish in 2009.ANC members are due to choose their president at a conference in mid-December, with Zuma and Mbeki regarded as the main contenders.However Pretoria-based analyst Dirk Kotze said it was unlikely fresh charges could be brought before the conference and most activists had already made up their minds.”Time is running out and it would be too obvious as a political strategy” by elements opposed to Zuma’s candidacy,” Kotze told AFP.”It (the ruling) is not going to have a detrimental effect on his internal support base but it will have an effect on whether he is ultimately charged and if he is charged that will ultimately discount him,” he added.In a brief statement issued after the ruling, the ANC said it would respect the court’s decision.”As we have consistently maintained, the law must be allowed to take its course,” it said.The main opposition Democratic Alliance meanwhile called on the ANC to postpone its leadership contest in the light of the judgement.”The supreme court’s decision to uphold appeals by prosecutors in the case of ANC deputy president Jacob Zuma must certainly now compel the ANC to postpone its December election of a new president until the cloud hanging over Jacob Zuma has been lifted,” it said in a statement.Although the 65-year-old Zuma is considered a front runner for the top position at the ANC, his reputation was also tarnished during a rape trial last year in which he was eventually acquitted.He was widely slammed in the trial’s aftermath for admitting in court to having had unprotected sex with an HIV positive woman who was less than half his age, and for stating that he showered afterwards for protection.Nampa-AFPBut in a ruling handed down at the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein, a panel of judges ruled the search warrants had been correctly issued, thus removing a crucial obstacle to the bringing of fresh charges.”We are very pleased with the judgement,” National Prosecuting Authority spokesman Tlali Tlali told AFP.”What it means is that one of the major hurdles has been overcome and we should now be able to proceed and conclude the outstanding matters.”The warrants were used to seize documents at a number of addresses, including in the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius, and a lower court had previously sided with Zuma by declaring them invalid.While there was no immediate reaction from Zuma himself, supporters indicated he may contest the judgement at the constitutional court.”It does not mean that Mr Zuma is guilty of any offence,” Don Mkhwanazi, chairman of the Jacob Zuma Trust, told SABC public radio.”These are all procedural matters.”Zuma, currently number two in the African National Congress, was fired as deputy head of state in 2005 after his advisor Schabir Shaik was sentenced to 15 years in jail for corruption, and he was subsequently charged himself.Last September, a judge threw out the charges, linked to a 1999 arms deal, but the NPA has pressed ahead with its probe.Some analysts believe that fresh charges could damage Zuma’s chances at winning the presidency of the ANC, a traditional stepping stone to the post of head of state which Mbeki must relinquish in 2009.ANC members are due to choose their president at a conference in mid-December, with Zuma and Mbeki regarded as the main contenders.However Pretoria-based analyst Dirk Kotze said it was unlikely fresh charges could be brought before the conference and most activists had already made up their minds.”Time is running out and it would be too obvious as a political strategy” by elements opposed to Zuma’s candidacy,” Kotze told AFP.”It (the ruling) is not going to have a detrimental effect on his internal support base but it will have an effect on whether he is ultimately charged and if he is charged that will ultimately discount him,” he added.In a brief statement issued after the ruling, the ANC said it would respect the court’s decision.”As we have consistently maintained, the law must be allowed to take its course,” it said.The main opposition Democratic Alliance meanwhile called on the ANC to postpone its leadership contest in the light of the judgement.”The supreme court’s decision to uphold appeals by prosecutors in the case of ANC deputy president Jacob Zuma must certainly now compel the ANC to postpone its December election of a new president until the cloud hanging over Jacob Zuma has been lifted,” it said in a statement.Although the 65-year-old Zuma is considered a front runner for the top position at the ANC, his reputation was also tarnished during a rape trial last year in which he was eventually acquitted.He was widely slammed in the trial’s aftermath for admitting in court to having had unprotected sex with an HIV positive woman who was less than half his age, and for stating that he showered afterwards for protection.Nampa-AFP

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