STALINGRAD DEFENCE: ZUMA VS DOWNER/MAUGHAN
Indifferent but on track — Zuma’s playing for time strategy pays off again
Zuma, for the most part, looked disinterested in the dock during his umpteenth appearance but left court victorious in a sense — it was without a date for his next appearance, writes Greg Ardé.
Who could imagine what was going through the mind of former president Jacob Zuma when he appeared in the Pietermaritzburg high court on Monday 17 August and his marathon arms deal corruption case was postponed, again.
The former president’s political star might be waning but his detractors will say that the 81-year-old’s Stalingrad strategy to delay justice is on track.
Presiding Judge Nkosinathi Chili did not set a date for the continuation of the trial — nor instruct the legal teams to set aside dates for its continuation.
Advocate Billy Downer for the prosecution said, given the history of Zuma’s matter, long delays in proceedings were best avoided.
Downer spoke with an air of almost amused resignation during a convivial court appearance.
For those who have grown weary of the Zuma Arms Deal corruption saga, here’s a quick refresher.
Stalingrad continues predictably
Last year, Judge Piet Koen recused himself from the case because he expressed himself on the private prosecution that Zuma has bought against Downer and journalist Karyn Maughan.
Zuma is prosecuting them for releasing his medical records, a sideshow to the main act: him being accused of corruption, racketeering, money laundering and fraud arising from his receipt of 783 payments from his on-off chum, convicted crook Schabir Shaik and French arms company Thales.
Maughan and Downer have argued that summonses served on them in September last year should be quashed.
Today Judge Chili, now with the reins, received another application to oust Downer, effectively giving Zuma’s lawyer Dali Mpofu another bite at the cherry.
The spokesperson for the Jacob Zuma Foundation was soon crowing about this on social media.
“The judge refused the request by (lead advocate) Billy Downer to set the date for criminal case….,” Jimmy Manyi tweeted.
While the significance of this may be lost on non-legal minds — it essentially means that Zuma now has no “trial date” hanging over his head. And it will mean the judge and the legal teams will have to scramble through their busy diaries in future to find suitable dates — more delays.
Judge Koen, who had presided over the matter until he recused himself in January, had kept a tight rein on proceedings, given that they have already been running for four years and, as Downer submitted in court today, with no end in sight.
“The trial should not be put on the back burner,” he pleaded.
Judge Koen had previously insisted that either a holding date — or a date for trial — be determined in advance and he had also instructed the legal teams to set aside the last term of this year and the first term of next year for the trial to continue.
Judge Chili seemed to agree with submissions by Mpofu that this would be a “disservice” to counsel involved in the matter, who would have to keep two terms free “which may or may not be used because there are so many X factors.”
So what are the X factors?
Zuma’s new application to oust Downer has to be heard.
This application is largely a rehash of his historic complaints about political interference in the trial, his continued claims that Downer is biased and, that he is now prosecuting Downer (and Maughan) in a private prosecution relating to alleged “leaks” of his personal medical information.
Zuma says he cannot be prosecuted by someone who he is prosecuting.
Downer and Maughan’s applications to stop this have been argued and judgment is awaited.
But either way, those will undoubtedly go on appeal.
The saga drags on
Zuma’s latest application has been set down to be heard on 15 and 16 August. Zuma has been excused from attending.
Judgment will be reserved. And either way, again, someone will appeal.
Zuma, in his latest affidavit, says he is being “tortured”, just as suspects during apartheid days were, “except in my case, I did nothing wrong”.
On his version, the facts are clear: Downer must go and it’s the State’s fault that the corruption trial has been on the roll for so long, without a single shred of evidence being led, because the NPA should have “done the right thing” and removed Downer.
Last year Zuma appeared in court on his birthday. His court appearances are increasingly less scary with a dwindling number of angry supporters — a far cry from his heyday when Zuma was a “tsunami” that rolled across the land.
Today the man whose supporters unleashed an orgy of violence that claimed over 300 lives in the July riots of 2021, appeared in court a few days after celebrating his 81st birthday.
@MYANC wishes former President member Jacob Zuma well on the occasion of his birthday. We wish President Zuma long life strength and good health. Continue serving our people with diligence, dedication and commitment. pic.twitter.com/RK9cQ7DUpp
— African National Congress (@MYANC) April 12, 2023
The party was a modest affair attended by a “terminally ill” Shaik who was released from prison in 2009 after serving two years of his 15 year sentence for corruption.
A video of last week’s party was posted on Twitter by Zuma’s daughter Duduzane.
President Zuma Being Serenaded On His Birthday… pic.twitter.com/WNaCzUkoOb
— Dudu Zuma-Sambudla (@DZumaSambudla) April 13, 2023
It shows Shaik smiling benevolently across the table at an old and tired Zuma as a waitress bearing a cake belts out a rendition of the Bruno Mars song.
Shaik and the small huddle of family and friends looked on adoringly as the waitress sang: “When I see your face there is not a thing I would change, because you are amazing”.
A KZN faction of the South African National Civic Organisation in KwaZulu-Natal would disagree. They recently rejected his election as SANCO KZN chairperson. The ANC is reportedly not recognising any of Sanco’s warring factions. No surprise there – at the party’s leadership conference last year Zuma’s bid for national chairperson of the ANC ended with miserable flop. DM
This article was updated at 4.50pm with details of Zuma’s birthday celebration.