Former President Jacob Zuma’s corruption trial — which was due to resume on May 6 — is expected to be postponed until June 23, following an agreement between the state and defence.
The parties in the case have submitted the proposed date to KwaZulu-Natal deputy judge president Mjabuliseni Isaac Madondo, who will advise them on whether he agrees to the new trial date.
While the government has eased lockdown restrictions, air travel is still off limits, meaning most of the lawyers in the case would have needed to drive to Pietermaritzburg to attend the hearing. French arms company Thales was also unable to send a representative to the hearing because of the ban on international travel.
On Wednesday, the JG Zuma Foundation confirmed that the Constitutional Court had accepted Zuma’s withdrawal of his last-ditch bid to appeal the dismissal of his application for a permanent stay of prosecution.
That withdrawal happened after Zuma fired his attorney of two years, Daniel Mantsha, and replaced him with high-profile lawyer Eric Mabuza. Zuma said his decision was motivated by his desire to prepare for his trial. It was also linked to deep rifts between Mantsha and Zuma’s advocate Muzi Sikhakhane.
Under the agreement proposed by the state and defence, Zuma and Thales will not be expected to appear at the high court in Pietermaritzburg on May 6, when the former president would have needed to explain his non-attendance at his previous trial date.
Mantsha had failed to convince judge Dhaya Pillay that he had admissible medical evidence that Zuma was absent because he was receiving treatment for an undisclosed medical condition overseas.
The judge issued an arrest warrant for Zuma, which she then suspended.
While Zuma is adamant he is ready to face trial as soon as possible, the Constitutional Court has yet to decide whether it will hear a final appeal application lodged by Thales. Should it decide not to do so, Zuma’s trial may proceed in 2020.
Zuma stands accused of accepting millions of rand in corrupt benefits from his former financial adviser Schabir Shaik, in return for him using his position in government to advance Shaik’s business interests.
He also faces charges that he accepted a R500,000-a-year bribe from Thales, facilitated by Shaik, in exchange for his “political protection” from any potential arms deal investigation.
By KARYN MAUGHAN