Zuma cites violence and Covid-19 gatherings as reason for wanting corruption trial postponed

Former president also tells the Pietermaritzburg high court that he cannot be compelled to attend the matter virtually.

18 July 2021 - 11:27 By TimesLIVE
Former president Jacob Zuma has asked for his fraud and corruption trial — scheduled for court on Monday — to be postponed for a week..
Former president Jacob Zuma has asked for his fraud and corruption trial — scheduled for court on Monday — to be postponed for a week..
Image: REUTERS/MIKE HUTCHINGS

Former president Jacob Zuma has asked for his fraud and corruption trial — scheduled for  court on Monday — to be postponed for a week.

Zuma was set to make a “special plea” to be acquitted without trial. His lawyers say he wants to testify orally as part of this plea.

In an application to the Pietermaritzburg high court, Zuma’s lawyers cite “violent disruptions” preventing them meeting with him as a key reason for asking for the postponement.

They also argue against a digital hearing.

“In terms of the applicable legal framework, the first accused cannot, in the present circumstances, be compelled to have his trial conducted on a virtual platform and or in his absence,” his lawyer, Bethuel Mondli Thusini, says in an affidavit.

Zuma was imprisoned in the early hours of Thursday, July 7, after a conviction on contempt charges. This triggered waves of violent unrest, later described by the government as a “failed insurrection”.

In the court papers, dated, July 17, Thusini says: “Following Mr Zuma's arrest and incarceration on Thursday, July 7 2021, we have had no access to consult with him until Thursday, July 15 2021. A wave of violent disruptions took place between Friday, July 8 2021.”

He adds that in that period, the former president had also made two separate applications before the court — which were both dismissed last week.

Given this, Thusini said he wrote to the NPA seeking a postponement of the fraud and corruption trial. This, he said, was to “reach an agreement to give everyone the opportunities for ideal conditions of conducting this sensitive trial”.

“The NPA refused to agree to a postponement requiring us to file a formal application for a postponement which the NPA would oppose,” he said.

A request was subsequently raised that the matter be heard online. However, Zuma and his team do not want this — a stance that the former president stood by during a consultation in the Estcourt prison on July 15.

“We received instructions which were in line with what we had communicated to His Lordship, namely that the matter be postponed for a week so as to reassess the situation,” said Thusini.

He adds: “The crisp question is why is the accused not before court? The answer is simple that the court is closed as per the directions issued by the chief registrar of this court, the first accused [Zuma] is in custody and no arrangements were made by the state to bring him to court, [and] the country is placed on level 4 lockdown and the gathering of people is discouraged because it may spread the Covid-19 pandemic.”

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