Surrounded by his family, including his father, former president Jacob Zuma, and sister Duduzile, the 38-year-old could not wipe the smile off his face when magistrate Tebogo Thupaatlase told a packed courtroom that the state failed to prove the case against him beyond a reasonable doubt.
Zuma has been on trial for his alleged involvement in the death of Phumzile Dube in February 2014.
He has consistently claimed that he lost control of his Porsche 911 Turbo which he was driving at the time after it hit a puddle of water and crashed into the minibus taxi which Dube was travelling in.
His lawyer Michael Hellens also insisted to the court during the trial that Zuma’s car had a high propensity to aquaplane and that his client could not at the time of the crash foreseen that there would have been a puddle of water in the middle of a freeway.
Magistrate Thupaatlase agreed with this and declared during his judgment yesterday that there was no evidence on record that showed what speed Zuma should have driven on the day that would have avoided the crash.
He added three witnesses had testified that aquaplaning could have happened, even at low speed.
“There is no evidence the accused should have foreseen the puddle There is no evidence showing what steps he should have taken to avoid aquaplaning,” the magistrate said.
This declaration appeared to bring joy to the Zuma family who faced the strong media contingent with big grins and chuckles.
Although Zuma refused to speak to the media, his father simply said that he was pleased with the outcome of the case.
While deciding on his verdict, magistrate Thupaatlase said he took Zuma’s ability to see the road clearly on that rainy night over five years ago into account.
He told the court that from the evidence presented, he failed to conclusively come to the conclusion Zuma was speeding nor that he failed to act as a reasonable man would have during the crash.
During the trial, the State insisted that the crash which claimed Dube’s life, was the result of Zuma speeding at the time and that he could have prevented his car from aquaplaning on the day.
But forensic engineer and accident reconstruction expert Konrad Lotter who testified in the case, told the court that Zuma only lost control of his Porsche 911 after it hit a puddle of water.
He added that the collision was not necessarily caused by Zuma’s excessive speed and that it was possible the vehicle lost control due to aquaplaning.
Thupaatlase also listed the testimony of a climatologist from the SA Weather Service who told the court during the trial that the weather was poor for driving on the night of the deadly accident.
The magistrate added that witnesses called by the state in the culpable homicide case did not help prove his guilt.
He included the example of the State’s chief witness, 73-year-old Matron Madikane. Although the accident must have been a traumatic experience for her, she was difficult to deal with on the stand as she refused to answer certain questions, at times, said Thupaatlase.
Meanwhile, National Prosecuting Authority spokesperson Phindi Mjonondwane said they welcomed the verdict and would not appeal the matter.
“We believe the presiding officer applied his mind. We believe this was a fair judgment.
"We are satisfied we have done our best.
"The prosecutor gave it his best shot, but the court ruled otherwise unfortunately and there is nothing we can do about it,” Mjonondwane said.