South African’s former president, Jacob Zuma, will resume his graft trial today. This will be done online in a bid to forestall another wave of the deadly unrest that swept the nation after he was jailed in an unrelated case.
Although the proceedings were taking place virtually, security was tight around the High Court in the southeastern city of Pietermaritzburg, the capital of Zuma’s home region of KwaZulu-Natal, where Zuma loyalists have previously gathered in rowdy shows of support.
Zuma faces 16 charges of fraud, graft, and racketeering related to the 1999 purchase of fighter jets, patrol boats, and military gear from five European arms firms when he was deputy president. He is accused of taking bribes from one of the firms, French defense giant Thales, which has been charged with corruption and money laundering.
The trial started in May after numerous postponements and delays, as Zuma’s legal team worked fervently to have the charges dropped.
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Zuma, 79, spoke from his prison in the small town of Estcourt, appearing in a black suit, white shirt, and red tie, sitting on a black office chair in a white-walled room. He proclaimed his innocence when he appeared in person for the opening in May. Thales has also pleaded not guilty.
On June 29, Zuma was separately found guilty of contempt of South Africa’s top court for snubbing graft investigators probing his time as president. He was jailed on July 8.
South Africa was then plunged into chaos, with looting and rioting erupting in KwaZulu-Natal as well as in the economic hub of Johannesburg in Gauteng province, claiming more than 200 lives.
The unrest was widely seen as at least partially in response to Zuma’s imprisonment.
Monday’s hearing could reignite tensions that had eased by the weekend, analysts warn.