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Jacob Zuma warned of a mountain too steep to climb in Billy Downer application

Former President Jacob Zuma corruption trial postponed to next week in Pietermaritzburg KwaZulu Natal. Photo Doctor Ngcobo/Africanewsagency(ANA)

Former President Jacob Zuma corruption trial postponed to next week in Pietermaritzburg KwaZulu Natal. Photo Doctor Ngcobo/Africanewsagency(ANA)

Published May 19, 2021

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Durban - Legal experts say the surprise application by former president Jacob Zuma to eject advocate Billy Downer SC as the lead prosecutor in his corruption, fraud and money laundering trial is a rugged road that will be too difficult for him to navigate.

The warning comes after the former head of state and his legal team on Monday notified the Pietermaritzburg high court that they intended to use the law to force Downer to stand down.

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Zuma is accused of pocketing millions in cash bribes and other material benefits from convicted Durban businessman, Schabir Shaik.

With Judge Piet Koen giving Zuma’s legal team, led by advocate Thabani Masuku SC, until next week Wednesday to file their affidavits and spell out why Downer must go, for now, nobody knows the exact reasons.

With the matter to be heard by an open court, attorney Mpumelelo Zikalala of Zikalala Attorney said the application made by Zuma and his legal team was legally permissible even though it is rarely used by accused persons.

He, however, said the biggest challenge would be for them to prove to the court by presenting compelling evidence that Downer acted unconstitutionally, hence, he must be forced out.

“In order to make an application like this one, there must unique situations backed with compelling evidence. Regarding the Act, he is relying on to accuse the NPA or public prosecution of unlawful conduct, those are serious allegations that should adequately be substantiated like showing the evidence, when the misconduct took place and other related things,” Zikalala said.

Another legal expert Anton van Dalsen, a legal counsellor with the Helen Suzman Foundation in Johannesburg, said while it would be mere speculations for now how the matter would likely go since the exact reasons for the application are not yet known, the move is mind-boggling.

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“It’s very odd, very odd. It’s not clear on what ground he is trying to do this o, nobody knows … the whole thing is odd. Surely if you want someone recused or recuse himself, you say why and he hasn’t said why,” Van Dalsen said.

He added that it’s “very unusual” for an accused to make such an application.

Zuma’s legal team refused to say anything in court on Monday, saying their arguments will be known when the matter returns to court.

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