Wed, Aug 02, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Zuma's case in South Africa will be heard next month

EXPLOSIVE TRIAL Presidential hopeful Jacob Zuma's lawyers said that they would summon President Mbeki as a witness and that damaging allegations would emerge

AP , PIETERMARITZBURG, SOUTH AFRICA

A Zulu chief supporter, right, of South African ex-deputy president Jacob Zuma prepares to greet him on Monday after Zuma's trial had been postponed to Sept. 5.

PHOTO: AFP

A South African court gave prosecutors until early next month to make their case for more time to prepare corruption charges against Jacob Zuma after lawyers for the would-be-president argued the most explosive case since the end of apartheid should be thrown out.

The case, which coincides with another trial of lawmakers accused in a travel scam, has focused the spotlight on government graft in Africa's economic and diplomatic powerhouse.

Zuma emerged triumphant after his two-hour appearance to address several thousand adoring fans and sing an old anti-apartheid song which has become his anthem: Bring Me My Machine Gun.

Scenes outside the High Court in this southeastern town resembled a campaign rally for the 64-year-old former guerrilla leader who was President Thabo Mbeki's heir apparent until he was fired last year amid allegations he accepted bribes to blunt investigations into a 1999 arms deal.

Zuma's supporters within the governing African National Congress (ANC), its trade union and Communist Party allies insist Zuma is the victim of a political plot to deny him the presidency.

"What is clear of late is that there should be other people other than Jacob Zuma accused of corruption," said Zwelinzima Vavi, general-secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions.

He demanded a new investigation into the multibillion rand deal between the government and arms companies from South Africa and Europe that has already destroyed several political careers.

Defense lawyers have said they would summon Mbeki as a witness and damaging allegations would fly during any trial.

Prosecutors maintain Zuma was aware of efforts by his friend and former financial adviser, Schabir Shaik, to secure him a yearly payment of 500,000 rands (US$70,000) from French arms manufacturer Thint Holdings (formerly Thomson CSF). The company has been charged along with Zuma.

Zuma also allegedly accepted at least 1.2 million rands in payments from Shaik to fund an expensive lifestyle, according to prosecutors.

Shaik was convicted on those two corruption counts in June last year and sentenced to 15 years in prison. His appeal is due to be heard late this month. Zuma denies any wrongdoing.

Prosecutors want Zuma's trial postponed until next year, arguing that a series of defense appeals -- including ones challenging the legality of key raids, and the need to get evidence from Mauritius -- have delayed investigations.

Lawyers for Zuma and Thint argued on Monday that any further delay in the case would hurt their clients' chances of a fair trial. They asked Judge Herbert Msimang to order that the case go ahead or that charges be dropped altogether.

Msimang rejected a request from prosecutor Wim Trengove for a delay until October to give the state time to respond to the defense's objections while also handling Shaik's appeal. Instead he accepted a proposal by defense lawyer Kemp J. Kemp for the court to reconvene on Sept. 5.

"This matter, as you are well aware, impacts on our society," Msimang told the prosecution.

Prosecutors had launched a probe into Zuma's role when the allegations first surfaced, and announced in August 2003 that while there was evidence against him, the case was not winnable. Prosecutors revisited the case after Shaik was convicted and brought charges.

Zuma's supporters worry that if the case is delayed much longer, it could hurt Zuma's chances of being elected ANC president at the party's conference in December next year -- a key step toward leading the country when Mbeki's completes his second and final term in 2009.

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