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From 2003–2020: Zuma’s corruption trial 17 years in the making

The former president faces 16 charges of fraud, corruption, racketeering, and money-laundering related to the arms deal. This is a timeline of his case since 2003.

The crowd who gathered to support former President Jacob Zuma is seen reflected in his glasses as he waits to speak after appearing on corruption charges at the Durban High Court on 6 April 2018. Picture: Ihsaan Haffejee/EWN.

JOHANNESBURG – Former President Jacob Zuma was expected to appear before the KwaZulu-Natal High Court on 6 May for his corruption trial, or he could face jail time.

This was after the State on then requested Judge Dhaya Pillay to issue an arrest warrant for Zuma after his lawyers applied for him to be absent from court proceedings in Pietermaritzburg due to ill health.

The former statesman faces 16 charges of fraud, corruption, racketeering, and money-laundering related to the controversial multi-billion rand arms deal concluded in the late 1990s.

Zuma faces twelve charges of fraud, one of racketeering, two of corruption and one of money laundering in connection with 783 questionable payments totalling more than R1.2 million he allegedly received from his former financial advisor and convicted fraudster, Schabir Shaik.

Zuma is charged along with French arms company Thales, which allegedly bribed him.

Here’s a timeline of events related to the case:

August 2003: Then National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) head Bulelani Ngcuka said there was a prima facie case of corruption against Zuma, but he wasn’t charged alongside Shaik at the time.

June 2005: The Durban High Court finds Shaik guilty on two counts of corruption and one count of fraud. He was sentenced to more than 15 years in jail, but he was later released on medical parole in March 2009 after serving just two years and four months of his sentence.

In the same year, then president Thabo Mbeki announced in Parliament that Zuma was dismissed from his duties as the country’s then deputy president after Shaik was found guilty of soliciting bribes on behalf of Zuma from Thales.

Also in the same year, the then elite Scorpions (now Hawks) in August raided properties belonging to Zuma and his former lawyer, Michael Hulley, as part of their corruption investigation.

The Scorpions were disbanded in October 2008 after Parliament adopted the NPA Amendment Act and the South African Police Service Amendment Act, which paved the way for the establishment of the Hawks.

September 2006: After the NPA officially charged Zuma with corruption following Schaik’s trial, the late KwaZulu-Natal judge president, Judge Herbert Qedusizi Msimang, struck off the court roll Zuma’s corruption case. The judge berated the NPA, saying the prosecution had failed to follow the correct procedure in bringing the case to court.

November 2006: The Supreme Court of Appeal rejects Shaik’s bid to appeal his conviction and 15-year sentence.

December 2007: The Scorpions served Zuma with an indictment to stand trial on various counts of racketeering, money laundering, corruption, and fraud related to the arms deal. This came days after Zuma’s successful defeat of Mbeki at the African National Congress’ (ANC) 52nd national elective conference in Polokwane, Limpopo. Zuma was tipped to be South Africa’s next president in 2009.

September 2008: Pietermaritzburg High Court Judge Chris Nicholson rules in Zuma’s favour, saying he was entitled to make representations before the NPA prior to its decision to re-charge him over the corruption charges. Nicholson also said there was the possibility of political meddling in Zuma’s prosecution.

However, on 23 September 2008, Mbeki applied to the Constitutional Court for leave to appeal the Nicholson ruling. Mbeki said it was improper for the court to make such “far-reaching vexatious, scandalous and prejudicial” findings concerning him, which led to the ANC eventually recalling him from office after nine-and-a-half years as the country’s president.

January 2009: The Supreme Court of Appeal subsequently overturned Nicholson’s ruling, saying it wasn’t necessary for Zuma to make representations before he was re-charged with corruption.

April 2009: Former acting head of the NPA, Mokotedi Mpshe, withdrew all corruption charges against Zuma after he made representations to the prosecuting authority. These representations cantered on the so-called “spy tapes” which allegedly showed a political conspiracy against Zuma.

FILE: Jacob Zuma addresses the Durban High Court on 7 April 2009 after prosecutors withdrew fraud and corruption charges against him. Picture: AFP

FILE: Jacob Zuma addresses the Durban High Court on 7 April 2009 after prosecutors withdrew fraud and corruption charges against him. Picture: AFP

The secret phone recordings were that of the then Scorpions boss Leonard McCarthy and former NPA head Bulelani Ngcuka discussing the timing of prosecuting Zuma in an effort to “boost” Mbeki’s chances of re-election as ANC president at the December 2007 elective conference.

May 2009: Zuma is sworn in as South Africa’s president at the Union Buildings in Pretoria.

FILE: South Africa's newly elected President Jacob Zuma takes an oath during his inauguration at the Union Buildings in Pretoria on 9 May 2009. Picture: AFP.

President Jacob Zuma takes an oath during his inauguration at the Union Buildings in Pretoria on 9 May 2009. Picture: AFP.

April 2016: The North Gauteng High Court rules that the decision to drop all corruption charges against Zuma was irrational and should be set aside. The application was brought by the Democratic Alliance which had launched a protracted legal battle to get access to the spy tapes.

October 2017: The Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) upheld the High Court ruling in April 2016 that the original decision to charge Zuma in 2009 should stand.

Following the SCA ruling, Zuma's lawyers were given an opportunity to make representations for the withdrawal of criminal prosecution to former NPA boss Shaun Abrahams.

14 February 2018: Zuma is forced to resign as president by the ANC’s national executive committee following Cyril Ramaphosa’s election as party president in December 2017.

March 2018: Zuma’s legal team’s arguments over the long delays to bring him to trial, allegations of a political conspiracy, and pre-trial irregularities over the corruption trial were rejected by Abrahams on 16 March 2018, effectively reinstating the charges against him.

Abrahams stated that a trial court would be “the most appropriate forum for these issues to be ventilated and to be decided upon”.

April 2018: Zuma appears in the Durban High Court for a preliminary hearing, but Judge Themba Sishi adjourned the case until 8 June 2018 after Zuma launched his review application on 15 May.

Former South African president Jacob Zuma in the dock at the Durban High Court on 6 April 2018 for a preliminary hearing related to charges of fraud, corruption and racketeering. Picture: AFP

Jacob Zuma in the dock at the Durban High Court on 6 April 2018 for a preliminary hearing related to charges of fraud, corruption and racketeering. Picture: AFP

June 2018: Zuma appeared briefly in the Durban High Court on the corruption charges. However, the case was postponed again after the State and Zuma’s lawyers asked to study arms company Thales' representations to withdraw the case.

July 2018: Zuma appeared before the Pietermaritzburg High Court for the third time, but the case was postponed once again due to the stay of prosecution application. In the same month, Zuma terminated the services of his long-time attorney and confidant Michael Hulley.

December 2018: The North Gauteng High Court rules that the State’s decision to pay for Zuma’s legal fees was unlawful and illegal. Deputy Judge President Aubrey Ledwaba ruled that Zuma should pay back all the legal fees spent on him since his criminal trial began in 2005. The fees were estimated at R15.3 million.

May 2019: Zuma applies for a permanent stay of prosecution. The prosecution dismissed as "unfounded" Zuma's allegations that he was victim of a "witch hunt".

WATCH: Zuma: I'm innocent

November 2019: The KwaZulu-Natal High Court in Pietermaritzburg dismissed Zuma’s appeal for a bid for a permanent stay of prosecution with costs. Judges Jerome Mnguni, Esther Steyn and Thoba Poyo-Dlwati found that there were no compelling reasons why the former president should be granted leave to appeal.

February 2020: The Pietermaritzburg High Court on 4 February 2020 agreed to a request from the State to issue an arrest warrant for Zuma after he skipped court proceedings due to ill health. But, the court stayed the warrant until his corruption trial resumes on 6 May 2020.

June 2020: The warrant of arrest for Zuma was cancelled by the Pietermaritzburg High Court.

This after Zuma’s legal team provided sufficient evidence showing he was ill in February when he failed to appear in court.

The State wanted the case to be postponed to October, arguing that it was unable to meet with forensic specialists due to the national lockdown. But the High Court adjourned the matter to 8 September 2020.