After 8 years and R30m... Zuma wants another chance to explain

15 September 2017 - 06:00
By Genevieve Quintal
President Jacob Zuma.
Image: Masi Losi/Sunday Times President Jacob Zuma.

President Jacob Zuma has bet his future on a bewildering roll of the legal dice.

In a staggering about-turn on Thursday, Zuma has asked for a new opportunity to make representations to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) on the hundreds of corruption charges that have haunted him for years.

In an apparent pre-emptive move in case he loses the appeal before the Supreme Court of Appeal, Zuma wants the current NPA head, his ally Shaun Abrahams, to make a new decision on the 783 corruption charges hanging over his head.

But the Democratic Alliance, spearheading the case against Zuma, is confident that his latest move will backfire.

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Legal expert Ulrich Roux told The Times it was a mystery why counsel for the NPA and Zuma went to court on Thursday, only to concede that the decision by former NPA head Mokotedi Mpshe to discontinue the prosecution was irrational.

"The judges would provide clarity in their forthcoming judgment on whether the NPA must be forced to prosecute Zuma and, if so, whether Zuma should be allowed to make fresh representations," Roux said.

Zuma turned to the SCA on Thursday to ask for leave to appeal against an earlier ruling by the High Court in Pretoria that the 783 corruption charges against him should be reinstated, following the application by the DA.

The High Court said it was irrational of the NPA, then led by Mpshe, to drop the charges against him, shortly before he became president of South Africa in 2009.

But instead of Zuma arguing in the SCA on Thursday that the decision to drop the charges was rational, his lawyer, Kemp J Kemp, said exactly the opposite.

He told a full bench of judges he believed the NPA had made a mistake when it decided not to prosecute Zuma.

Asked by one of the judges if he defended the decision to drop the charges, Kemp said: "No, I'm not defending it."

"You accept that the decision was irrational and cannot stand?" asked another of the judges.

"Yes," said Kemp.

Kemp told the SCA his client wanted the opportunity to make fresh representations before the NPA decided whether to recharge him.

However, Justice Mahomed Navsa said those processes were not for the SCA to decide on.

DA federal executive chairman James Selfe said, given the weight of concessions made by Zuma and the NPA, it was inevitable that the president would face the corruption charges.

"What we are hoping the court will do is go ahead and give some clarity to the process that must now take place," he said.

Selfe said there were "excellent grounds" to have Zuma pay for the matter out of his own pocket.

He said court proceedings over the past eight years had hit the public purse, possibly running to almost R30-million.

Justice Eric Leach questioned why Zuma had approached the court if he was ultimately agreeing with what the High Court had ruled.

Kemp said he wanted the court to set out the processes going forward.

Judgment was reserved.

- Additional reporting by Ernest Mabuza