Zuma lawyer: Corruption trial will be ‘mob justice’ from people who talk of ‘f**king Indians’

The former president's legal team is hoping to get a permanent stay of prosecution for their client in his corruption trial.

In an impassioned speech in court on Monday morning in the High Court in Pietermaritzburg, former president Jacob Zuma’s advocate Muzi Sikhakhane claimed the first question he’d asked his client when he met him was: “Are you corrupt, Mr Zuma?”

He later argued that, whether Zuma was corrupt or not, he has been treated improperly due to alleged bias and political influence. However, he appeared to say that he personally does not consider Zuma corrupt.

He said this was a question he’d pondered because “as we meet in our coffee shops in our white, leafy suburbs to talk about Mr Zuma, to seek white validation and impress our friends, we have never for a moment paused to think of what do we know that he did”.

“Secondly, suppose we know that he did what he did. I was asking him these questions because I wanted to clear my conscience to represent him because I don’t want to call him corrupt until I know.

“Suppose we know that he may well have done what we suspect he did … the question is, does he get stripped of human dignity? Is there a reason to deal with him in a particular way because he is Mr Zuma?

“Is Mr Zuma different from my son, who may be accused of sexual assault or rape tonight and I’ll look for a lawyer to represent him, and yours? Must he be dealt with with less humanity?”

Sikhakhane pleaded with the court that Zuma had “no other place to tell this story” and that the court’s judges needed to play their role of being custodians of the constitution without “any regard to political whims”.

He mentioned cases that would be relevant to Zuma’s application for a stay of prosecution, and acknowledged that it was a very “difficult remedy”.

“But let me tell you what actually underpins the philosophy that we think the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) subscribes to in the manner in which they have dealt with Mr Zuma. I call it the mob justice. It’s driven and inspired by something all of us in this room have, to varying degrees. It’s bias.

“And my lord and ladies, there are two forms of blindness in society. One is physical blindness – people who can’t see. The next one is the most serious blindness that we all suffer from. We just don’t realise it. It’s caused by bias.”

Sikhakhane said physically blind people could harm themselves but not others, while those blinded by “prejudice” were dangerous. The lawyer said he would take the court through some of the discussions from the so-called spy tapes so that it could see how “the people we give power discuss judges, discuss other people, and discuss prosecution”.

“People who are blinded by bias do what we’ve been doing for the past 15 years. ‘We think you are guilty. We will do with you what we like.’

“That’s what they do.

“Historically, what else do biased, blind people do? People who, intellectually and psychologically, cannot see … they do not ask the question: ‘What do I know about the person I’m lynching?'”

He alleged that people blinded by discrimination through history had targeted certain groups simply because “they are black, and they are women, and they have killed them”.

“They have sent them to the gas chambers because they are prejudiced against them.”

He told the story of how Bennito Mussolini’s body had been despoiled after his death, which as a society one should not do, or humans would be no different to “organisms that live in the jungle”.

Sikhakhane took issue with the criticism that Zuma had adopted a “Stalingrad approach” to avoid going to trial and delay it indefinitely, saying the NPA itself was to blame.

“I’m going to read you in the spy tapes a discussion between a prosecutor and an outsider seeking to trap Mr Zuma so that they’ll know he’ll go to court. So that the thing could be delayed. I’m going to tell you in the spy tapes, I’m going to read them verbatim … of people are calling our judges ‘f**king Indians. Calling a judge ‘that Indian guy’ … referring to judges in the most derogatory terms. Because they believe they can do anything to a person they suspect.”

In his affidavit to court submitted before these arguments began, Zuma and his lawyers claimed that the lead prosecutor in the case, advocate Billy Downer, had a personal hatred for Zuma and may even have been having “withdrawal symptoms” from apartheid.

Zuma implied that Downer was two-faced and has an “aversion” to the truth, effectively labelling him a liar, which Downer later responded was “scandalous and vexatious” and “untrue and unwarranted”.

Downer asked for more than a dozen such accusations and characterisations against him to be withdrawn before the high court, and for Zuma to personally bear the costs of Downer’s application. He has reportedly expressed concern that the state’s case and the NPA was being prejudiced by Zuma and his legal team’s personal attacks on him.

Earlier this year, Zuma claimed in his affidavit that no one else in South Africa has supposedly suffered as much “personal and political prejudice” since the dawn of democracy in the country. He accused the NPA of mistreating and humiliating him.

he and his lawyers repeated long-held claims that the arms deal investigation against him was politically manipulated and processes were abused, and that Zuma became a “career obsession” for some prosecutors, especially Downer.

Zuma once again referred to the so-called spy tapes as evidence that his case had been politically manipulated. The evidence of the tapes led to charges being dropped prior to Zuma becoming president, but the courts later ruled that should not have happened.

The recordings revealed a discussion between former NPA boss Bulelani Ngcuka and former Scorpions boss Leonard McCarthy discussing the timing of charging Zuma.

In 2017 the appeals court confirmed a high court decision that then NPA head Mokotedi Mpshe had erred in making the call to drop charges in 2009.

Zuma’s application for a permanent stay of prosecution for his corruption trial is being heard over three days from today.

The trial, which is yet to begin, is linked to the controversial R60 billion defence force arms deal concluded in 1999, which saw several multinational companies around the world providing technology and equipment.

It is alleged that multinational arms company Thales paid bribes to Zuma — via Shaik — in order to protect the company from a probe into the arms deal, in which Thales had secured a lucrative R2.6 billion contract to supply combat systems for the South African navy.

It is claimed that Thales paid Zuma — who was deputy president of the country at the time — R500,000 a year for political cover.

Zuma and Thales have both asked the court to stop the prosecution.

In one affidavit, Zuma said his prosecution had “all the attributes of a case that should be stayed permanently”.

“The delays have been extremely long, the pre-trial irregularities glaring. The prejudice to me is blatant. There are no victims or complainants and the political interference in the prosecution passes as other circumstances or factors the court should take into account,” said the affidavit.

In the affidavit submitted by Thales, company lawyer Christine Guerrier said the decision to reinstate the charges against the company was “unlawful” and that Thales’ “rights to a fair trial have been violated”.

The company has cited the long delay as an overriding factor and that the “employees involved in the events underpinning the charges are not available to provide [the company] with instructions … to assist [Thales] in presenting its defence at trial”.

Zuma is accused number one and is facing one count of racketeering, two counts of corruption, one count of money laundering and 12 counts of fraud for allegedly receiving bribe money from Thales via Shaik.

Thales is accused number two and is facing one count of racketeering, two counts of corruption and one count of money laundering.

The hearing continues.

For more news your way, download The Citizen’s app for iOS and Android.

Access premium news and stories

Access to the top content, vouchers and other member only benefits