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Fraud and corruption charges stalk South Africa's President Zuma

A South African court has ruled that President Jacob Zuma should face a proper investigation into his role in the country's arms deal worth billions of dollars.

His disgraced former financial adviser, Schabir Shaik, was found by Judge Hilary Squires to have had a generally corrupt relationship with Jacob Zuma, while the latter was MEC of economic affairs and tourism for the KwaZulu-Natal provincial government.

In 2005, Shaik was found guilty on two counts of corruption and one of fraud, and the court ruled that there was "overwhelming" evidence of a corrupt relationship between Shaik and Zuma.

Shaik had managed to convince his auditor, Ahmed Paruk, to create false journal entries in a company financial statements to obscure bribes paid through to Zuma.

As a consequence of the ruling, Zuma was dismissed from his post as deputy president by then president Thabo Mbeki.

That would come back to haunt Mbeki after Zuma managed to return to favour and eventually power in 2009, when Mbeki, in turn, was forced out as president of the party.

By then Mbeki had lost a great deal of support due to his Aids denialist position. A 2007 UNAids report estimated that 5,700,000 South Africans had HIV/Aids, or just under 12% of South Africa's population of 48-million. Mbeki and his then health minister, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, spent millions of rands on worthless treatments which were later to be rejected as bogus medicine.

South Africa was amongst the nations with the highest infection rate and Zuma found a sympathetic audience amongst the youth wing and labour unions, which supported the ANC and wanted action concerning Aids and continued poverty amongst the majority of South Africans.

The fraud charges against Zuma were then dropped just before the 2009 election which led directly to Zuma becoming president.

This week's Supreme Court of Appeal ruling stems from the high court decision which found that the acting national director of public prosecutions at the time had acted irrationally in dropping the 18 charges of fraud and corruption against Zuma.

In 2016 the High Court in Pretoria ruled that the opposition Democratic Alliance case, which stated that Zuma should face charges, should go ahead.

During the latest Supreme Court of Appeal hearings, Zuma's defence team agreed that dropping the original charges was irrational, surprising observers and legal experts. Instead they argued that the original investigation was always motivated by politics with Mbeki trying to instigate action against Zuma.

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) now has to decide if it wants to reinstate the charges.

Zuma immediately lodged a challenge with the Supreme Court of Appeal which he has now lost. The South African president said on Friday, October 13, that he was disappointed by the decision.

South Africa's president could face at least 18 charges of corruption and fraud based on the more than 780 different payments he received. While the payments are not in dispute, their alleged illegality is.

But the NPA must make the final decision and there are fears that because the president nominated its head, national director of public prosecutions Shaun Abrahams, he may refuse to continue investigations.

For Zuma it's more bad news linked to his ruling party which is about to face a leadership change-over during which he's been backing his former wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, to replace him as president of the ruling ANC.

He has the backing of the party youth league and the women's league, but opposition is growing to his continued involvement after the party lost control of the country's biggest cities in local government elections in 2016.

Zuma has had a chequered career since he faced rape allegations in 2005, when a 31-year-old daughter of a man imprisoned on Robben Island with him said Zuma had unprotected sex with her despite the fact that she told him she was HIV-positive.

Zuma knew that she was infected by the virus but told the court at his rape trial that he believed that having a shower after sex would protect him from the fatal disease.

He also claimed the sex was consensual and he was acquitted of the charges in 2006. Despite admitting to having sex with a woman without using a condom, and being married to three other women at the time, he still managed to garner enough votes to become ANC president in 2009.

In 2016 he was found to have breached the Constitution by refusing to pay back millions of rands used to upgrade his personal compound in Nkandla, north of Durban, in KwaZulu-Natal.

While local government results were embarrassing for the ANC in 2016 with opposition parties winning metropolitan municipalities in Nelson Mandela Bay, Johannesburg and Tshwane, surveys also show that his approval rating had slumped by as much as 28% – from 64% in 2011 to 36% in 2015.

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