Corruption trial: Fight simmering over Jacob Zuma’s appearance before Pietermaritzburg High Court
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Durban - As tension mounts over seeing Jacob Zuma before the Pietermaritzburg High Court for the first time since his arrest, a fight is brewing between the former president’s team and the judiciary.
The former president is currently jailed at Estcourt Correction Centre, where he is serving a 15-month sentence imposed by the Concourt, for defying its order to him to appear before the Zondo Commission.
Zuma is charged with corruption in connection with the 1999 purchase of fighter jets and other military equipment from five international arms companies. He faces 16 charges of fraud, graft and racketeering for allegedly taking bribes from the arms companies. French defence company Thales is a co-accused in his case.
On Monday, the court will hear the Zuma legal team’s application to have the prosecutor recuse himself.
In their application, Zuma’s lawyers argue that advocate Billy Downer SC of the National Prosecuting Authority cannot lead his prosecution as he is allegedly a tainted figure who has allowed politics to influence him and who had allegedly shared information with US spies from the CIA.
Downer has denied all accusations.
Zuma wants the NPA to halt his prosecution and for the matter to be thrown out of court, claiming he would not receive a fair trial.
A further bone of contention is the question of whether Zuma's hearing should be virtual and, on the other side, is whether is such a hearing is constitutionally sound or not.
At the weekend, the Jacob Zuma Foundation insisted that in a criminal trial all accused should be present in court and, if that's not the case, there should be exceptional circumstances to explain that.
The foundation said the “sensitive” hearing should be shelved if the situation - in this case the fact that South Africa is in the midst of a devastating third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic - does not allow for such a hearing.
“The foundation is concerned that the directions issued by the Pietermaritzburg High Court, to hear the matter virtually, are not consistent with provisions of both the Criminal Procedure Act (CPA) and the Constitution, as set out below.
“The matter must be heard physically on July 19 or later, when the country is calmer,” the foundation said on Twitter late on Saturday.
The foundation even quoted some sections of the Criminal Procedure Act, which says criminal cases should be heard with all accused present in court, unless there were exceptional circumstances preventing this.
Spokesperson of the foundation Mzwanele Manyi said Zuma's lawyers would legally challenge the directive to have the matter heard through virtual platforms.
He added that they want Zuma to be driven from his Estcourt Correction Centre cell to Pietermaritzburg, to be present in court when the application is argued on Monday.
“Yes, it's a criminal case. Both the constitution and even (the) Criminal Procedure Act direct so,” Manyi told Independent Media on Sunday.
“Remember, at times, lawyers need to consult the client to check the veracity of some statements being made by the prosecutor. You can't stop the prosecutor and ask for an adjournment to call your client in Estcourt,” Manyi said.
On Sunday, NPA spokesperson Mthunzi Mhaga said they were aware that Zuma and his legal team were against the virtual sitting, and they were ready to oppose that.
"Yesterday (on Sunday), yes, our prosecutors have received them. We are still working on our replying affidavits. We will oppose the application," Mhaga said yesterday.
Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola has issued a directive that the number of prisoners attending court in person should be limited to curb the spread of the coronavirus. In the gazetted regulations, Lamola laid out the criteria for in person as well as virtual court hearings.