JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – The Pietermaritzburg High court in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, on Tuesday resumed a trial that has dragged out for years over a $2 billion arms deal involving former president Jacob Zuma, whose legal team sought to remove a prosecutor they accused of bias
The trial over the 1990s deal was meant to start in May, after being been repeatedly stalled by legal arguments, but was delayed again by Zuma’s request to replace lead prosecutor Billy Downer, who Zuma’s lawyers said was not impartial. The case was adjourned until 1100 a.m. (0900 GMT) on Wednesday.
On July 7, Zuma was jailed for failing to cooperate with a separate corruption probe, precipitating some of the worst riots and looting the country has witnessed since the end of white minority rule in 1994. More than 300 people were killed and thousands of businesses pillaged and razed.
His jailing was nonetheless seen as a victory for South Africa’s ability to enforce the rule of law, even against powerful politicians. The top court – the Constitution Court (ConCourt) – on Friday dismissed a bid by Zuma to overturn that 15-month jail sentence.
Zuma, 79, has been convalescing from an undisclosed illness, and has been allowed to see out the rest of his sentence at home on health grounds, being granted medical parole. He regards the criminal trial against him as a politically motivated witch hunt.
I wear the badge of being a political prisoner
“I wear the badge of being a political prisoner … (of) the struggle for the freedom of the African,” Zuma said in a statement late on Monday. “Injustice will be defeated.”
He also said: “As with many of our leaders during the struggle, I believe that history will vindicate me when I say that South Africa today is in the process of changing from a constitutional democracy to a constitutional dictatorship.”
Zuma, who was absent on Tuesday at the trial proceedings at the Pietermartizburg High Court, has pleaded not guilty to corruption, money laundering and racketeering related to the acquisition of military hardware that has been mired in accusations of graft. French arms group Thales has also denied wrongdoing.
Zuma is accused of accepting a 500,000 rand ($33,900) annual bribe from Thales from 1999 in exchange for protecting the company from investigation.
UPDATE: NPA’s attempt to have Zuma’s medical record handed to court dismissed by Judge Piet Koen
WATCH: The spokesperson of the Jacob Zuma foundation, Mzwanele Manyi, speaks out after the NPA's attempt to have Zuma’s medical record handed to court was dismissed by Judge Piet Koen in Pietermaritzburg. Manyi says it victory justice against a conniving NPA. #ZumaTrial @IOL pic.twitter.com/ZBufW16QPc
— Sihle Mavuso (@NewsBotZA) September 21, 2021
(Reporting by Wendell Roelf; Editing by Tim Cocks and Nick Macfie)