Dark Days for Isolated Zuma at Start of S. Africa Graft Case

(Bloomberg) -- Former South African President Jacob Zuma is scheduled to appear in court to face corruption charges just two months after being ousted by his own party.

The trial marks a dramatic turnaround in South Africa where Zuma held a tight grip on power for almost a decade before his former deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, won the leadership of the ruling African National Congress in December and took over as president in February. His downfall and Ramaphosa’s rise have boosted confidence in the economy, with Moody’s Investors Service last month removing its threat of a junk credit rating.

Dark Days for Isolated Zuma at Start of S. Africa Graft Case

Police erected barricades as groups of Zuma’s supporters began arriving early Friday outside the court in Durban, in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal, defying ANC orders not to wear party regalia. Zuma, 75, will face 16 charges ranging from corruption to racketeering related to bribes he allegedly took from arms dealers. Officially, the ANC, the Communist Party and main labor unions, which had catapulted him to power, aren’t backing him.

“President Jacob Zuma over the last nine years, despite some of his achievements, has been a tornado that wreaked havoc in the economy of this country,” said Sizwe Pamla, a spokesman for the 1.9 million-member Congress of South African Trade Unions, a close ally of the ANC. “We are still dealing with the damage and picking up the pieces.”

Ramaphosa’s Cleanup

The trial comes as Ramaphosa has embarked on a campaign to remove Zuma-appointed executives from state-owned companies and clean up the ANC, which had backed Zuma’s administration in the face of a series of scandals. Since he took over as party leader, the rand is the world’s best-performing currency.

Under Zuma, “state capture” entered the national lexicon as a way to describe the alleged influence wielded over his government by his friends, the Gupta family, which has done business with his son, Duduzane. The Guptas and Zuma deny any wrongdoing.

Electoral Threat

As criticism of Zuma’s administration intensified in recent years, the ANC saw its electoral fortunes wane. While it’s won outright majorities in every election held since it took power in the first multiracial contest in 1994, it lost control of several cities, including the economic hub Johannesburg, in a 2016 municipal vote. National elections are due to take place around the middle of next year.

The move to pursue the charges against Zuma came after the Supreme Court of Appeal in October upheld a lower court ruling that the decision to drop the charges in 2009 was “irrational” and that the political considerations that had tainted the investigation were irrelevant to the integrity of the case.

Last month the head of the National Prosecuting Authority, Shaun Abrahams, said the case would go ahead and he was confident that “there are reasonable prospects of a successful prosecution.”

Zuma’s lawyers will ask for a postponement of the trial so they can challenge Abrahams’s decision to proceed with the case, Business Day reported Thursday, citing Michael Hulley, his lawyer. Hulley didn’t immediately answer calls seeking comment.

The former president is also counting on backers to come out in protest against the trial since he still enjoys significant support in KwaZulu-Natal. The ANC is divided following Ramaphosa’s slim victory in the party leadership election over Zuma’s preferred candidate and ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

“Zuma will undoubtedly use the court appearance as a public relations and political mobilization exercise,” independent political analyst Melanie Verwoerd said by phone from Cape Town. “This will be part of a strategy to bring pressure on the NPA to drop the case against him.”

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