ANC delegate holding t-shirt supporting the leadership of Jacob Zuma.
Originally uploaded by Pan-African News Wire File Photos
By CELEAN JACOBSON 12.28.07, 5:33 PM ET
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa - The newly elected leader of South Africa's ruling party was ordered to stand trial on corruption and other charges next year, possibly derailing his attempts to become president.
Jacob Zuma will be tried in the High Court in August on charges of racketeering, money laundering, corruption and fraud, his lawyer Michael Hulley said Friday.
Zuma, 65, defeated President Thabo Mbeki last week in a bitterly contested election for the leadership of African National Congress. The battle left deep rifts in the 85-year-old ANC that Nelson Mandela led to victory over the racist apartheid state.
The ANC leader is traditionally the party's presidential candidate, and its overwhelming backing has ensured election victories first for Mandela in 1994, then Mbeki in 1999 and 2004.
But the prospect of a trial against Zuma raised doubts about whether the party would back his candidacy for the next election in 2009, when Mbeki is constitutionally required to step down.
A popular former guerrilla fighter, Zuma was handing out presents Friday to children at an annual Christmas party in his rural home village in KwaZulu-Natal. He would not answer questions from reporters about the charges.
Zuma, who was acquitted of rape last year, has denied any corruption and has said prosecutors are trying to smear him for political reasons.
In e-mail to The Associated Press, Hulley accused prosecutors of acting "with improper motive calculated to discredit Mr. Zuma and ensure that he claims no leadership role in the political future of our country." He questioned the timing of the prosecution's decision right after the ANC elections.
National Prosecuting Authority spokesman Tlali Tlali declined to comment Friday.
Hulley didn't provide details on the charges, but Zuma has been under investigation in a bribery scandal involving French arms company Thint.
Mbeki fired Zuma as the country's deputy president in 2005 after Zuma's financial adviser was convicted of trying to elicit bribes from the company.
Prosecutors contend Zuma was aware of efforts to secure the bribes on his behalf in exchange for using his influence to halt an investigation into a multibillion-dollar arms deal between Thint and the government.
Charges against Zuma were thrown out last year on a technicality.
But last week, the country's top prosecutor said he had enough evidence to go back to court. Zuma responded defiantly, saying "take me to court."
Prosecutors pursuing the case against Zuma have won a number of legal victories this year. South Africa's court of appeal ruled that a police seizure of incriminating documents from Zuma's home and office was legal.
The investigation has centered on a $7.1 billion deal for the government to buy ships, submarines, helicopters, jets and other arms from Thint in 1999.
The charismatic Zuma has wide support among the trade unions and other leftist groups, and his election as ANC president raised concern among critics that he would send Africa's largest economy down a populist slide.
But he and Mbeki have gone to great lengths to assure there would be little change in the government's economic direction. Mbeki's market-friendly policies have led to an economic boom, though his detractors say the benefits have not trickled down to the majority of South Africans who remain impoverished.
Zuma, who has little formal education, was a leader in the intelligence services of the ANC's military wing, and, like Mandela, served time at the Robben Island prison during the struggle against apartheid.
Last year, Zuma was acquitted of raping a family friend. But he outraged AIDS activists by testifying that he had unprotected, consensual sex with the HIV-positive woman and then took a shower in the belief that it would protect him from the virus.
Mbeki must account to Luthuli House, says Masetlha
Johannesburg, South Africa
28 December 2007 01:57
Former National Intelligence Agency boss Billy Masetlha, newly elected to the African National Congress (ANC) national executive committee (NEC), says President Thabo Mbeki and his Cabinet will be "recalled" from their government positions unless they "account" to Luthuli House, Business Day reported on Friday.
According to the report, Masetlha said this would happen because ANC leaders were deployed to government posts and were not elected directly to public office.
Masetlha told a gathering of the veterans' association of the ANC's disbanded military wing, Umkhonto weSizwe, on Thursday that the next couple of months were going to be "very difficult" if the government merely paid lip service to ANC resolutions taken at its watershed 52nd conference, which resulted in Mbeki being forced out and Jacob Zuma being elected as its new president, the daily reported.
Masetlha, who was fired by Mbeki, also warned that Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota and his deputy, Mluleki George, could face "disciplinary action" for their conduct leading up to and during the ANC conference in Limpopo last week.
According to the report, the two diehard Mbeki loyalists went public over their opposition to Zuma. Lekota berated Zuma supporters, saying that they were not "thinking properly" and were hooligans for wearing ANC T-shirts emblazoned with Zuma's picture. George held a rally on the sidelines of the ANC's conference, and referred to Zuma supporters as "howlers" who had to be stopped lest they hijacked the "revolution".
Masetlha said that while the ANC had to "heal" itself, certain "tough questions" had to be asked. "We were elected to be of service to the people. Accountability starts now," he said.
"With due respect to the Cabinet, they are going to have to account, and if they defy conference resolutions, they must be recalled." -- Sapa