By Prince Kurupati
10 years after Jacob Zuma was served with the original indictment for corruption charges, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) finally said that it’s moving forward and hopeful that it would be successful in prosecuting Zuma, the former South African President who resigned earlier this year amid intense pressure from his party, the African National Congress (ANC).
On the eve of Jacob Zuma’s ascendancy to the post of President of both his party the ANC and the country, while facing 783 counts of longstanding money laundering, racketeering, and corruption charges, the NPA controversially dropped the charges. While it’s clear that the NPA has rejuvenated these charges, it’s not clear if they are looking to prosecute Zuma based solely on these charges or if they will do so in unison with other corruption allegations that Zuma faced during his time as the President including the Nkandla and the State Capture debacle.
Addressing a media briefing in Pretoria, the National Director of Public Prosecutions, Shaun Abrahams who is also a close ally of Jacob Zuma said that there are “reasonable prospects of a successful prosecution of Mr. Zuma on the charges listed on the indictment”. The charges listed on the indictment include accusations that Mr. Zuma accepted and took kickbacks from the $5 billion purchase of fighter jets, patrol boats, and other arms.
The allegations stem from a 1999 arms procurement deal which South Africa entered into with a number of companies from France, the UK, Sweden, Italy, and Germany. South Africa at the time sought to modernise its military thus engaged contractors who would the country with modern military equipment. Jacob Zuma and other top-ranking government officials allegedly took kickbacks from the bidding companies.
The arms procurement deal has already seen some officials spending some time in jail. Schabir Shaik, a former financial advisor of Jacob Zuma in 2005 was found guilty of soliciting a bribe from the subsidiary of a French arms firm, Thales. For his role, Shaik was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment but only spent a little over 2 years and was released on parole on health grounds. Tony Yengeni who was the ANC Chip whip and the Chairman of Parliament’s defence committee was convicted of fraud in 2003 relating to the same arms procurement deal. He was sentenced to 4 years imprisonment but effectively spent only five months and was also freed on bail.
If convicted, Zuma faces lengthy sentences as money laundering, corruption and racketeering carry strong sentences in South Africa.
The one firm heavily involved in unscrupulous dealings during the arms procurement deal, French firm Thales is also facing prosecution. However, Abrahams did not disclose the charges Thales is facing saying, “a trial court would be the most appropriate forum for these issues to be ventilated and to be decided upon.”
Though the NPA has taken the first step, it’s still a long way off to the day the judge will pass a verdict. Before the trial starts, Jacob Zuma is permitted under the law to appeal the charges he is facing. Zuma has in the past denied any wrongdoing thus it’s expected that he is going to appeal in the near future. The appeal can drag on for long and when it finally passes, the trial itself may drag on and on for months even years!
This is to say for the majority of the civil society, opposition parties and the general populace that has been angling for Zuma to spend time behind bars, if indeed they are going to get their wish i.e. see Zuma arrested, it may take years for the wishes to pass.
The new developments come in the wake of other corruption allegations Zuma has faced during his time as president. During his time as the president, an anti-corruption body found that Zuma had used government funds to refurbish his rural home in Nkandla. It’s reported he spent $23 million on refurbishments including the construction of an amphitheatre and swimming pool. Zuma is also accused of having exploited his links to the Gupta family, helping the Guptas to win big state contracts.
Zuma’s former financial advisor, Shaik who spent two years behind bars for his role in the arms procurement deal said that he has been subpoenaed to testify. In his reply, he stated that “I think the law must take its course.”
While the civil society and the various opposition groups have welcomed the development and are confident of a guilty verdict for Jacob Zuma including the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) led by Julius Malema, a former confidant of Zuma who figuratively said the ‘Eiffel Tower has fallen’, Zuma’s party, the ANC issued a statement saying, “Comrade Jacob Zuma to be presumed innocent until, and if, proven guilty”.