After South Africa’s deadly violence, the Zuma graft trial resumes.
South African ex-president Jacob Zuma’s graft trial opened on Monday, with proceedings streamed live online in an attempt to avoid a repeat of the fatal turmoil that gripped the country after he was imprisoned in an unrelated case.
Despite the fact that the proceedings were virtual, security was tight outside the High Court in Pietermaritzburg, the capital of Zuma’s home province of KwaZulu-Natal, where Zuma supporters had previously assembled in raucous displays of support.
The area surrounding the court was protected by armed police and soldiers deployed to suppress recent protests.
According to an AFP reporter on the scene, a brown military truck towered over armoured police vehicles while a chopper buzzed overhead.
Zuma is accused of 16 counts of fraud, bribery, and racketeering in connection with the acquisition of fighter jets, patrol boats, and military equipment from five European arms companies when he was deputy president in 1999.
He is accused of accepting payments from one of the companies, Thales, a French defense conglomerate that has been implicated with corruption and money laundering.
Zuma’s legal team fought tirelessly to have the charges dropped, and the trial began in May after multiple postponements and delays.
Zuma, who was dressed in a black suit, white shirt, and red tie and sat in a black office chair in a white-walled room, talked from his prison in the small town of Estcourt.
When he came in person for the opening in May, he declared his innocence.
Thales has also entered a not-guilty plea.
Zuma was found guilty of contempt of the South African Supreme Court on June 29 for ignoring graft investigators probing his term as president. On July 8, he was sentenced to prison.
South Africa was then thrown into disorder, with looting and riots erupting in KwaZulu-Natal and Johannesburg, Gauteng province’s economic centre, claiming over 200 lives.
The unrest was largely interpreted as being triggered, at least in part, by Zuma’s detention.
Analysts fear that Monday’s hearing might rekindle tensions that had subsided over the weekend.
Zuma is being depicted as a hero of the poor by a radical wing of the ruling African National Congress (ANC).
“Judges’ behavior will be scrutinized,” said Sipho Seepe, a fellow at the University of Zululand in KwaZulu-Natal.
“They will protest if they believe justice has not been served.”
The focus of Monday’s hearing is expected to be on Zuma’s defense team’s request that Chief Prosecutor Billy Downer remove himself from the investigation due to allegations that he leaked information to the media.
The National Prosecuting Authority is a government agency that prosecutes criminal cases across the country (NPA). Brief News from Washington Newsday.