Graft trial resumes for S Africa’s ex-president


AP, Johannesburg 

The corruption trial of former South African President Jacob Zuma resumed Monday, more than a week after his imprisonment for contempt of court in a separate case set off rioting in parts of the country.

Zuma is accused of receiving bribes from the French arms manufacturer Thales related to the country’s controversial 1999 arms procurement contracts. The trial is taking place virtually, but Zuma’s lawyers may seek to postpone the proceedings so he can appear physically in court.

The former president’s imprisonment earlier this month triggered protests that escalated into widespread unrest in KwaZulu-Natal, Zuma’s home province, and in Gauteng, the province that includes Johannesburg, South Africa’s largest city. Zuma’s supporters forced the closure of strategic highways and rioters ransacked malls and shopping centers in poor areas. In KwaZulu-Natal warehouses and factories were looted and then burned by arsonists.

At least 212 people died in the rioting, many of them crushed during chaotic rampages in shops. More than 2,500 people have been arrested for theft and vandalism. Order was restored following the deployment of 2,500 army troops to assist police.

At the time he is alleged to have received the bribes through his former financial advisor, Schabir Shaik, Zuma was a high-ranking official in the ruling African National Congress party and a provincial minister in KwaZulu-Natal Shaik was convicted on related charges in 2005, sentenced to prison and later released on medical parole.

Zuma’s lawyers are expected to press his application for the lead prosecutor in the case, Billy Downer, to recuse himself from the state’s legal team. Zuma’s lawyers have argued that Downer is biased against Zuma.

The corruption case is different from Zuma’s contempt of court conviction. Zuma had defied court orders to testify before a state inquest into allegations of corruption during his 2009-2018 presidency. The judicial inquest has heard damning testimony of widespread corruption during Zuma’s administration. The Constitutional Court is considering his request to have his 15-month contempt of court sentence rescinded. Zuma’s lawyers have argued that the nation’s apex court made errors when convicting and sentencing him.

Assessing the damage done to South Africa’s economy by the unrest, President Cyril Ramaphosa said Monday that the nation has already begun recovering from the violence.