South Africa


Zuma parts ways with attorneys: Another delay in his corruption case likely

Former president Jacob Zuma appears in the Pietermaritzburg High Court on 23 June 2020 with lawyer Eric Mabuza. Mabuza told the court on Wednesday his firm was withdrawing from the Arms Deal-related case. Zuma stands accused of taking kickbacks before he became president from the R51bn purchase of fighter jets, patrol boats and military equipment manufactured by five European firms, including French defence company Thales. (EPA-EFE / Kim Ludbrook / Pool)

Mabuza Attorneys has withdrawn from Jacob Zuma’s corruption case in the Pietermaritzburg High Court, weeks before the former president was due to go on trial, making a postponement highly likely.

Former president Jacob Zuma will probably be able to postpone his Arms Deal-related corruption case, scheduled from 17 May to 30 June 2021 in the Pietermaritzburg High Court, after his legal representatives, Mabuza Attorneys, officially withdrew from the case on Wednesday.

In a letter, Eric Mabuza informed the court that his firm would “hereby withdraw as the attorneys of record for Accused No. 1.”

Zuma and French arms company Thales face one count of racketeering, four counts of corruption and one count of money laundering. The former president faces an additional 12 counts of fraud.

The charges relate to alleged payments Zuma received from Thales, through his financial adviser Schabir Shaik, who was convicted in 2005. Zuma is accused of offering to use his political influence to protect the company from investigations into the Arms Deal and of trying to solicit a R500,000 annual bribe from Thales.

It’s unclear why Zuma is parting ways with Mabuza Attorneys. He appointed the firm a year ago, almost to the day, to replace attorney Daniel Mantsha. Zuma appointed Mantsha in July 2018 to replace Michael Hulley, his long-time legal representative.

After Zuma appointed Mabuza Attorneys in April 2020, his foundation dismissed claims that he was trying to delay his corruption case. The former president retained the services of Muzi Sikhakhane SC, who has since represented Zuma in hearings at the Pietermaritzburg High Court and the State Capture Commission.

Attorneys appoint advocates and it’s unclear whether Zuma wants to retain Sikhakhane or whether the SC will make himself available to continue to represent Zuma.

The withdrawal of Mabuza Attorneys will almost certainly lead to a postponement in Zuma’s corruption case.

Zuma has been accused of using a “Stalingrad defence” in his various legal challenges, essentially challenging every possible point and appealing any adverse outcomes to delay the cases against him. 

In a statement on Wednesday, NPA spokesperson Sipho Ngwema said the state is ready to proceed with the case on 17 May, but it’s unlikely to go ahead on that date.

“Could it cause a postponement? Absolutely, yes,” said Dr James Grant, a practising criminal law advocate.

Grant said the attorneys who took over Zuma’s defence would be justified in requesting a delay. 

“Anybody who took it on now would just be insane to say that in less than three weeks they would be prepared to bring themselves up to speed with the complexity of what Zuma’s facing,” Grant said.

Criminal defence attorney Tyrone Maseko agreed. “Whoever takes on the case now will need time to prepare,” he said.

Grant said that when attorneys withdraw from a case, it’s standard practice for them to appear on the scheduled court date and announce that they will no longer participate. Normally, their replacements would be introduced and, often, they would request a postponement.

It’s unclear whether Zuma has appointed a firm to replace Mabuza Attorneys. He might be entitled to further postponements if he’s unable to find a replacement.

Grant explained that Zuma could appear in court on 17 May and say he has been unable to find attorneys to represent him. Then he could return after the postponement and say the same thing, requesting another delay.

The Supreme Court of Appeal recently ruled that Zuma must repay the legal costs incurred by the state in his private capacity, estimated to come up to as much as R25-million.

Grant said Zuma could fall into a situation many South Africans find themselves in, where he cannot afford the legal representation he believes he deserves while Legal Aid lacks the expertise to handle his complex case.

The idea of Zuma applying for Legal Aid appears unlikely, but it’s an option. The former president would have to prove he qualifies to receive Legal Aid. 

Zuma may not want to submit his financials for scrutiny after a court found in March 2021 that a former president, who couldn’t be named, was less than candid about his income in an interim maintenance application prior to a divorce.

If the court suspects that Zuma is appointing and changing his legal teams to delay his corruption trial, section 342(a) of the Criminal Procedure Act allows it to investigate and refuse further postponements.

“To my knowledge, he hasn’t done this before,” said Grant. 

Judge Dhaya Pillay issued a warrant of arrest for Zuma after he failed to appear in the Pietermaritzburg High Court in February 2020, which was stayed until his scheduled appearance in May of that year. It was cancelled when Zuma’s lawyers submitted documents showing he missed his court date because he was ill.

While Zuma’s Arms Deal corruption case is yet to begin, the Constitutional Court is expected to make a ruling soon on the State Capture Commission’s application to send him straight to prison for two years for violating the court’s order that he testify in front of Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo.

Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng asked Zuma to submit an affidavit, up to 15 pages, on his potential sentence. Instead, Zuma replied with a 21-page letter repeating allegations of judicial bias. DM


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All Comments 18

  • Yet another ruse by this menace, who has stolen the futures of millions of South Africans. Tired of watching these devious clowns ducking and diving while the country suffers.

  • Given the cynicism in general about the legal fraternity and the code of ethics it observes…one wonders what caused his appointed attorneys to ‘quit’ ? Not enough gravy left from the captured train ? That seems to be the only thing that ‘motivates’ the majority. To hell with ethics or integrity.

  • This is nothing but a disgraceful and calculated move by the odious zuma and his equally odious attorneys to delay justice once again. He must not be granted a delay as he does this all the time. Let the onus be on him to quickly find another mercenary attorney to represent him.

  • The cANCer called this sick individual No. 1. Give him pro deo legal representatives otherwise he will carry on like this forever.

  • I am not sure if this is news or a historical comment.

    This whole article could have been written in one sentence. “Nothing changes, Zuma continues to dance around the judiciary.”

  • “It’s unclear why Zuma is parting ways with Mabuza Attorneys.” It’s abundantly clear – to stall procedures. The trial should ahead, and if he cannot find a lawyer, let the state provide him with one – he won’t even have to pay. This is beyond farcical. Throw him in jail and let him fight from there.

  • I was going to exclaim “unbelievable”, but sadly it’s not, it’s very believable. Another Stalingrad step, this is part of Zuma’s “Long Walk to Stay in Freedom”. Apologies to Mr Mandela.

  • My take. Stalingrad 14.2. Zuma: Don’t worry about the 25 million Eric, your fee is safe offshore, so what’s Plan B? Mabuza: I’ve got an attorney friend. All he has to say is he doesn’t know enough about your case and requests a 6 month continuance to go through the documents. Zuma: nice one! Tea?

  • Not sure this is such a ‘complex case’.
    ‘Muddy the waters and here’s R500 000 a year’ sounds like simple bribery to me.
    Sheik was incarcerated on the golf course for the same thing

  • This man has been ducking and diving for decades and now another ruse to gain further time. When is someone going to call his bluff and when is the ANC top 6 going to admit any remorse for choosing this human wrecking ball in the first place.

  • He probably still hasn’t paid back the Nkandla money either, nor his VBS er… uhm… “loan” so good luck with getting R25 bar back.

  • He is 10 steps ahead of the Judiciary, making a mockery of the legal process. Law school ……pffft! Look at what street wise gets you :))

  • If nobody has the cajones, never mind the legal nous, to stand up and tackle this “vile buffoon” head-on and right quick, this country is completely lost. Call me dramatic, but that is in fact what’s at stake here: a country of laws or an anarchic shambles.