Pietermaritzburg – It’s D-Day for Jacob Zuma, whose corruption trial is finally set to kick off today.
Zuma is due back in the dock of the KwaZulu-Natal High Court in Pietermaritzburg this morning alongside his co-accused, French arms dealer Thales, for what is expected to be the official start of the long-anticipated trial.
It had been due to get underway on Monday last week but, instead, wound up being postponed again after the court heard Zuma planned on moving a special plea, challenging lead prosecutor state advocate Billy Downer’s title to prosecute and calling for his recusal.
It has since emerged that, if successful, Zuma will also be calling for his own acquittal. Zuma last week threatened to boycott the case.
Addressing his supporters outside court after proceedings, he was quoted as saying: “Should those responsible for applying the law fail to do the right thing, then I won’t go where they ask me to. And once I make the decision not to cooperate, no-one would convince me to change my mind.”
The charges against Zuma and Thales are expected to be put to them in court today and they, to tender pleas of either guilty or not guilty – with the court having heard last week Zuma would likely be opting for the latter.
The special plea he intends moving is also expected to be put on record today.
In a 141-page affidavit he deposed to last week in support of his special plea, Zuma accused Downer of being “obsessed” with the case and having “turned the prosecution into a personal legacy project”.
“His mission in life is to ensure I am prosecuted under any circumstances” he said.
He argued Downer “lacks the attributes necessary for a fair trial – independence and impartiality”. This, he said, was “terminal and therefore incurable”.
The allegations at the heart of the case relate to the dodgy multibillion-rand arms deal the state struck with Thales in the 1990s.
They include that Zuma received kickbacks through his former financial advisor, convicted fraudster Schabir Shaik, in exchange for shielding Thales from investigations.
Zuma in his affidavit, however, was adamant his relationship with Shaik “was one of those born from the liberation struggle”.
“I demanded nothing more than his loyalty as I believed that he expected nothing from his role in assisting me than just the opportunity to conduct his business in a free environment,” he said.