Former South African President Jacob Zuma appeared in court on Friday (6 April) to face corruption charges relating to a $2.5 billion arms deal.
He faces 16 charges including fraud, racketeering and money laundering. They relate to a procurement deal with Thales, a French arms manufacturer, in the mid-1990s, when Zuma was deputy president.
Zuma’s financial adviser at the time, Schabir Shaik, was convicted of corruption in the case in 2005 and sentenced to 15 years in prison. He was released after two years on medical parole.
In a procedural appearance that lasted less than 15 minutes, state prosecutors and Zuma’s lawyers asked the Durban High Court to adjourn the case until 8 June so that both sides could prepare submissions.
Zuma (75) denies any wrongdoing and is challenging the decision to prosecute the case.
Speaking outside the court, he said: “It is now clear to me that those in the judiciary and politics, despite everyone having their own individual rights, they somehow think that I don’t have the same rights.”
In February, Zuma resigned as president following weeks of public pressure to step down amid long-standing corruption allegations.
However, he continues to command immense support among some South Africans, with hundreds turning up outside the court on Friday. Zuma supporters said they would come out in force for his next court appearance in June and that the former president was the target of a politically motivated witch-hunt.
While a lengthy court battle is expected, the spectacle of Zuma appearing before a judge less than two months after his resignation was a victory for opposition figures and activists who have fought for years to call him to account.