Former South African President Jacob Zuma’s prosecution for graft appears at first glance to be a victory for the anti-corruption campaign of the nation’s new leader, Cyril Ramaphosa. Yet it also carries risks for his ruling African National Congress.
Not only will a drawn-out trial be a constant reminder to voters that he was enmeshed in scandal for most of the nine years he led South Africa — it raises uncomfortable questions about why the ANC, parliament and prosecutors failed to take action against him before. The case also threatens to further divide the party.
A wily political fighter, Zuma, 75, may seek to use the case to energize his supporters as payback for the ANC’s decision to force him to resign as the nation’s president last month. And the trial will take place in his home area, KwaZulu-Natal, where the party has its biggest membership and remains badly split a year before general elections.
“He will try by all means to garner support as he goes to court,’’ said Ralph Mathekga, an independent political analyst based in Johannesburg. “Jacob Zuma is a very manipulative leader. It will be very difficult for Ramaphosa to justify the presence of the ANC members who will be supporting Jacob Zuma in court. The ANC could do without this.”
Zuma may also try to delay going to trial as long as possible. His legal team is considering a bid to seek a review of the National Director of Public Prosecutions’ decision to pursue the case, which was dropped nine years ago in what a court ruling described as an “irrational’’ decision.
“In the circumstances, the likely course of action would be to take the announcement of the NDPP on review,’’ his lawyer, Michael Hulley, said in a text message on Saturday. “The decision will, however, only be made after careful consideration and consultation with Mr. Zuma.’’
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