Long delays with Jacob Zuma's corruption trial a concern for State, judge

Former President Jacob Zuma’s corruption case has been postponed once again and will now only kick off in mid-August at the earliest.

FILE: Former President Jacob Zuma appears in the Pietermaritzburg High Court on 31 January 2022. Picture: Nhlanhla Mabaso/Eyewitness News

JOHANNESBURG - Former President Jacob Zuma’s corruption case has been postponed once again and will now only kick off in mid-August at the earliest.

The case returned to the Pietermaritzburg High Court on Tuesday for an update on a petition that Zuma had lodged with Supreme Court of Appeal Judge President Mandisa Maya. He wanted her to reconsider his application for leave to appeal against the High Court's dismissal of his special plea for State advocate Billy Downer’s removal from his case, after two appeal judges initially refused the application out of hand.

Had the matter been dealt with by Tuesday, the case would have gone to trial on 31 May. But it emerged in court that Maya still hadn’t made a decision.

Downer said that he had last checked with her registrar the day prior.

“I checked with the registrar of the SCA twice and it is confirmed that there is no result yet from the SCA in respect of the Section 17 (2)(f) application of Mr Zuma’s. The last message I received from the registrar was that it was on its way to the president. The reason for the delay is unclear to me,” he told the court.

Downer initially asked the court to postpone the case until mid-June. But Judge Piet Koen presiding, instead suggested August, pointing to the likelihood that Zuma would still approach the Constitutional Court, were he unsuccessful in the SCA.

"At least then one will know whether such an application is being pursued. That’s always been what has been said that such an application will follow," the judge said.

Downer expressed concerns with the lengthy postponements.

"Naturally, the State is dismayed, as I indicated at the last appearance, with the length of the postponements, with the effect on the administration of justice etc," he said.

But Koen said that while he shared these concerns, in terms of the Superior Courts Act he had to let the process run its course.

"I don’t have a discretion in the matter. So all we can do is sit out this process of further appeals or further applications along the path of appeals," Koen said.

The allegations at the heart of the case against Zuma and his co-accused, Thales, find their genesis in a dodgy multi-billion rand arms deal struck with the latter in the 1990s and include that Zuma received an annual kickback of R500,000 through his former financial advisor, Schabir Shaik, in exchange for shielding Thales from investigations.

Shaik was charged with corruption in 2003 and found guilty in 2005, following which the State went after Zuma and Thales. Their case wound up being struck from the roll the following year, though, after a series of delays. In 2007, it was reinstated but then in 2009 – and in the wake of the spy tapes saga - the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) withdrew the charges.

In 2017, however, the SCA overturned that decision. And in 2018, then-National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP) Shaun Abrahams announced that the case was again being reinstated and Zuma and Thales were again summoned to court.

The case is now due back in court on 1 August. This is another holding date, though, and Zuma, as well as Thales, have been excused from those proceedings, as they were from Tuesday’s proceedings.

Were Maya to have dismissed Zuma’s reconsideration application and were there no application pending before the Constitutional Court by then, Koen ordered trial would proceed on 15 August and run until 16 September. He ordered that it would then resume on 7 November and run until 2 December.

Were the trial not ready to proceed by 1 August, a further holding date and date for continuation of trial would be determined then, the judge ordered further.

WATCH: Zuma corruption case postponed