JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – Jacob Zuma’s lawyers argued on Monday that the former South African president had been treated unfairly by prosecutors in his bid to have revived corruption charges set aside because he is unpopular in the country at large.
Zuma has applied for a permanent stay of prosecution from 16 charges of fraud, racketeering and money laundering relating to a deal to buy 30 billion rand of European military hardware for South Africa’s armed forces in the late 1990s.
The 77-year old, appearing in court on Monday for the fifth time since the charges were reinstated, has previously said he is the victim of a politically motivated witch-hunt.
On the first day of the hearing, Zuma’s lawyer, Advocate Muzi Sikhakhane, described his treatment by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) as “mob justice” and said Zuma had been charged because the country does not like him.
“Suppose we know that he may well have done what we suspect he did. Does he get stripped of human dignity, is there a reason to deal with him in a particular way because he is Mr Zuma?” Sikhakhane said in his opening address.
“Zuma was denied the opportunity to challenge evidence that implicated and prejudiced him,” the lawyer added.
He accused prosecutors of being biased against the former president, who was ousted by the ruling party in February 2018 after nine years in power marked by graft allegations and economic stagnation that led to credit rating downgrades.
The charges against Zuma were originally filed more than a decade ago but the NPA set them aside shortly before he successfully ran for president in 2009.
After his election, his opponents fought a lengthy legal battle to have the charges reinstated, finally succeeding in 2016. Zuma countered with his own legal challenges.
The case in Pietermaritzburg, the capital and second-largest city in KwaZulu-Natal province, is a rare example of an African leader being held to account for his actions. Zuma denies wrongdoing.
Zuma, wearing a black suit and red tie, was subdued in court. His son Duduzane, who faces culpable homicide charges, and a few of his supporters including a former cabinet minister travelled to Pietermaritzburg to support their former patron.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, Zuma’s former deputy, whose African National Congress party won a general election this month, has pledged to fight corruption as he seeks to woo foreign investment and revamp the ailing economy.
(Reporting by Nqobile Dludla; Editing by Catherine Evans)