Jacob Zuma’s defence team withdrew on principle
Johannesburg - Former president Jacob Zuma is going into his face-off with the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) on May 17 on the back foot after his lawyers Advocate Muzi Sikhakhane and attorney of record Eric Mabuza withdrew their services on matters of principle.
The withdrawal, according to sources with intimate knowledge of the case, was precipitated by some of the former president's allies who acted as gatekeepers preventing the lawyers from meeting Zuma alone, and in the process gave him bad legal advice.
Mabuza, is said to have been forced to communicate with Zuma via one of his associates and not directly as his client.
One associate lamented the turn of events as being a big blow to Zuma. “Now we are sending ubaba to the slaughterhouse to be eaten alive and the NPA would be ready this time around because they know that Sikhakhane and Mabuza are no longer in Msholozi’s corner.”
NPA spokesperson Sipho Ngwema on Saturday confirmed that the prosecuting authority was ready to go to trial.
“It's all systems go for the state and its more than 200 witnesses. We are ready to proceed with the trial on the 17th of May so that the accused can get the opportunity to clear his name,” he said.
Mabuza and his team are owed millions of rands in legal fees while some of Zuma’s associates have allegedly been going around “fund-raising for ubaba’s legal fees" and collecting millions of rands but failing to pay the lawyers, the sources have alleged.
“We are also not sure whether all the monies contributed and collected reached ubaba or maybe a fraction of it,” one of Zuma’s other associates, who is aware of certain people who have been collecting monies for legal fees, has alleged.
“Zuma‘a name has been used by certain people to enrich themselves, millions of rands were collected in the name of fund-raising for ubaba’s legal fees but his lawyers haven’t been paid.” he added.
According to the sources, there were ethical reasons behind the withdrawals, one of which is that the lawyers “didn’t want to be dishonest with the court”.
The Sunday Independent can exclusively reveal that Zuma’s former lawyer, Eric Mabuza, penned an explosive letter, dated April 15, 2021 to the former president, giving a blow-by-blow account on why his law firm was dropping him before his trial.
Mabuza is quitting along with advocate Muzi Sikhakhane, who has been the face of Zuma’s legal team for the past three years.
This week Mabuza sent a notice to the Pietermaritzburg High Court indicating that he is withdrawing as Zuma’s attorney of record without giving any specific reasons.
“It is for this (unspecified) ethical reason that the lawyer chose to withdraw from the case and it isn’t about them not being paid. The lawyers are owed millions of rands but they continued working until this ethical issue emerged,” one of the sources, who asked not to be named, has alleged.
The Sunday Independent has also seen a response letter from KwaZulu-Natal Deputy Judge President Mjabuliseni Isaac Madondo acknowledging Mabuza’s notice of withdrawal. Judge Madondo also requested Mabuza to appear in court on the day of the trial, May 17, and give “full reasons” for his withdrawal.
Madondo wrote: “In a criminal case proceedings, the leave of the court to withdraw as attorney of record must be sought and obtained, upon a full motivation.
“It is accordingly required that you attend court on the day of the trial and formally ask for leave to withdraw with full reasons. Until the court grants you permission to withdraw, you will not be excused from attendance.”
Mabuza and Sikhakhane couldn’t be reached for comment.
Zuma is going to trial after he was accused of soliciting an annual bribe of R500 000 from French arms company, Thales, for protection against any investigation in South Africa.
Zuma and Thales are due in court on charges relating to the controversial arms deal by the South African government.
The former president is facing 16 charges of racketeering, fraud, corruption and money laundering and he has always denied any wrongdoing. The French company has also said it has no knowledge of any transgressions committed by its staff over the awarding of the contracts.