Former South African President Zuma’s Corruption Case Begins Monday Riots Have Killed More Than 200

Former South African President Jacob Zuma’s corruption case will go to trial on Monday, July 19. A week ago, he was sentenced to jail for “contempt of court,” sparking the violence that rocked South Africa and left more than 200 people dead. Many of the companies and stores of local Chinese businessmen have been looted.

Former President Zuma, 79, is due to appear before the Pietermaritzburg Magistrate’s Court on Monday, July 19, charged with 16 counts of fraud, corruption and extortion in connection with the purchase of military equipment from five European arms companies while he was deputy president in 1999.

He is accused of pocketing more than 4 million rand (about 235,000 euros) in commissions, most of which came from the French Thales group, one of the companies awarded lucrative contracts worth about 2.8 billion euros.

The French defense giant also faces charges of corruption and money laundering. Mr. Zuma, like Thales, has denied the charges.

The trial on Monday, July 19, will be held virtually by video. Mr. Zuma will not leave prison for the hearing. However, his supporters are likely to demonstrate outside the courtroom, as they often do, in support of their “champion” Zuma.

Despite the numerous corruption scandals that have tarnished his presidency, Zuma retains great influence, especially in his home country of Zulu and within the ruling ANC party.

Zuma was convicted of “contempt of court” in late June for repeatedly refusing summonses from the National Anti-Corruption Commission. The commission was set up to investigate corruption scandals involving Zuma during his presidency from 2009-2018. Zuma was then sentenced to 15 months in prison for “contempt of court.

The day after he reported to prison, on July 9, riots were first ignited in KwaZulu-Natal, his stronghold in eastern South Africa, and then spread to Johannesburg. The backdrop was widespread unemployment and coronavirus (Covid-19 outbreak) restrictions.

Zuma’s supporters are accused of instigating the riots of recent days. Incumbent President Ramaphosa described it as a “calculated” “attempt to destabilize the country.

Before he was jailed, Zuma threatened to plunge the country into chaos if a single hair on his head was touched. However, according to University of the Western Cape researcher Ralph Mathekga, the judge will not succumb to “political pressure,” he told AFP. Sipho Seepe of the University of KwaZulu-Natal warned that “people will be concerned about the judges’ behavior and if they feel that justice is not being done, they will protest.” The prosecution plans to call more than 200 witnesses in the trial.

Zuma was forced to resign in 2018 after a series of scandals were revealed. His successor, Cyril Ramaphosa, promised to root out corruption. However, the successor president has also been subpoenaed by the Anti-Corruption Commission.