South Africa’s scandal-tainted ex-president Jacob Zuma appeared in court on Monday for the scheduled launch of a bribery trial that has been ongoing for 20 years.
Zuma is accused of 16 counts of bribery, corruption, and racketeering in connection with a 30 billion rand (nearly $5.0 billion) procurement of fighter jets, patrol vessels, and military equipment from five European arms firms in 1999.
Zuma, who was acting as Thabo Mbeki’s deputy president at the time, is accused of taking bribes worth four million rands from one of the companies, French defense company Thales.
The case was repeatedly delayed over the years as Zuma filed a series of appeals to get the charges dismissed.
Last month, all of Zuma’s lawyers abruptly resigned without explanation.
It’s unclear whether Zuma will request a new postponement to reorganize his defense at Monday’s trial, or whether he will opt to defend himself during the hearings, which he has referred to as a political witch hunt.
At the Pietermaritzburg High Court, dozens of people, including senior ruling ANC officials including the recently suspended party secretary-general Ace Magashule, gathered in support of the embattled former president.
“I am here to support president Zuma,” Magashule told AFP, dismissing the trial as “so political”.
Outside the courtroom, a crowd of supporters wearing yellow party T-shirts and waving ANC flags chanted.
“We should allow president Zuma, with grace and dignity, to rest at home,” an ANC lawmaker and former North West provincial premier Supra Mahumapelo said.
Zuma has “consistently maintained that no one is above the rules,” he said. He has always been obedient to the rules. However, at his advanced age, he should be allowed to fade into obscurity so that we can progress as a society.”
After a string of scandals, Zuma was forced to resign by the African National Congress between 2009 and 2018.
Cyril Ramaphosa, his successor, has promised to clean up the country.
SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN