WATCH: No supporters show up for Jacob Zuma's court appearance in Pietermaritzburg
Pietermaritzburg – It was quiet outside the Pietermaritzburg High Court on Tuesday morning ahead of former president Jacob Zuma's expected appearance for a hearing about the multiple fraud and corruption charges he is facing, dating back to the so-called arms deal of the 1990s.
Zuma's new attorney Eric Mabuza, wearing a cloth mask and visor, told journalists upon arriving at the court precinct that his defence team was ready to proceed to trial, but the State was not.
Mabuza said earlier this week that his client would be appearing in person.
Despite the lack of supporters, a heavy police presence was visible. Zuma's previous appearances have attracted scores of his supporters to the court, but Tuesday's hearing was being strictly controlled because of the coronavirus pandemic, with media seating limited to 10 people inside the court.
The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) wants the trial against the former president to start in 2021, citing the coronavirus as a key reasons for the delay.
The State also wants to amend the indictment to include eight new, albeit minor, charges against Zuma.
However, papers filed with the court show that his legal team will argue that the trial should start this October, for reasons that include his age.
The former president is 78-years-old, and the fraud and corruption charges against him have been in and out of the courts for the past 15 years.
Zuma also continues to maintain that KwaZulu-Natal Judge President Achmat Jappie should not be involved in any further pre-trial management discussions until a complaint made against him by the former president is conclusively resolved.
Zuma claims Jappie entered into “ex parte” discussions with lead prosecutor Advocate Billy Downer, without the knowledge of the defence team.
According to the State’s court filing, made in preparation for Tuesday’s hearing, several outstanding matters need to be concluded before the trial can proceed.
Zuma’s co-accused, French arms manufacturer Thales, has stated it has no objections to the trial date being set for 2021.
“Given the accumulation of the effects of Covid lockdown on the State’s ability to properly complete its trial preparation and provision of forensic material to [Zuma’s legal team], the as yet undelivered Constitutional Court order in the Thales application for review [of the decision to prosecute] and the fact that formal requests for further particulars have not been received, or answered, the State respectfully submits that it would be imprudent to choose a trial date earlier than the first term of 2021,” the State filing says.
The filing also says the State hopes coronavirus-related travel restrictions would be eased or lifted by 2021, allowing counsel and Thales’ witnesses and representatives “to be able to travel freely to attend the trial”.
Prosecutors also still want the court to hold an enquiry into Zuma’s February no-show in court, which led to a stayed arrest warrant being issued after the defence submitted a questionable “sick note” to explain his absence, with no supporting documentation to explain his illness.
Zuma claimed he was seeking medical treatment in Cuba at the time, but he has yet to provide the prosecution with details.
The State is also set to make an application to amend the indictment by adding eight new payments made to Zuma by his former financier, convicted fraudster Schabir Shaik, and his company the Nkobi Group, taking the total from 783 to 791 payments .
The newly discovered deposits increase the payments Shaik made to Zuma by R56 105 to a new total of R4 121 605.
The NPA says there was an illegal “common purpose” relationship between Zuma, Shaik and Thales South Africa to pay and accept bribes for “political protection” when the country was negotiating a multi-billion rand arms deal in the 1990s.
In his responding papers to the State, Zuma said any unnecessary delay in the case would infringe on his right to a speedy trial.
He objected to Jappie’s further involvement in the matter until his complaint against the judge had been resolved, and maintained that the trial should not be delayed because of Thales’ constitutional court application.
The matter was set to start at 10 am on Tuesday and broadcast live on several news channels.
African News Agency/ANA