Zuma proclaims innocence after court appearance

DURBAN: Former South African president Jacob Zuma appeared in court on Friday to face corruption charges relating to a $2.5-billion arms deal, later telling a crowd he would be proven innocent in the long-running case that resurfaced after his fall from power.
Zuma’s transition from “Mr President” to “Accused Number One” in less than two months is a significant setback for the 75-year-old, whose nine years in office were marked by economic stagnation and credit downgrades.
He faces 16 charges including fraud, racketeering and money laundering.
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 June 8 so both sides could prepare submissions. Judge Themba Sishi approved the request.
A potential trial would take several more months to prepare.
Zuma later made a rousing speech from a podium outside the Durban court, telling thousands of supporters that his opponents were telling lies and the judiciary and politicians believed that he did not have rights.
He said he was hated for championing policies to improve the lives of the country’s black majority.
“It amazes me when people treat me as if I’ve given up. They want me to be treated as a prisoner,” Zuma told the cheering crowd, flanked by family members and religious leaders who offered blessings before he spoke.
“I can’t believe all the lies that are said about me. I am innocent until proven guilty,” he added, speaking in Zulu in his home KwaZulu-Natal province.
Zuma denies any wrongdoing and is challenging the decision to prosecute the case, a dramatic development on a continent where political leaders are rarely held to account for their actions before the law.
The speed with which prosecutors have booked his day in court is a sign of the loss of control Zuma has suffered since his successor, Cyril Ramaphosa, became head of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) in December.
Zuma, who has never lost the ability to rouse a crowd with traditional song and dance, still retains some popular support, especially in his Zulu heartland.
He led the crowd on Friday in a rendition of “Umshini wami,” a song made popular by the ANC’s armed wing during South Africa’s decades-long struggle against apartheid and which translates as “Bring my machine gun”.
Heavily-armed police in riot gear looked on. Marchers, many clad in the distinctive gold, green and black of the ANC, carried placards reading “Hands off Zuma” and “Champion of Radical Economic Transformation”.
They said they would come out in force for Zuma’s next court appearance in June and that the former president was the target of a politically motivated witchhunt. — Reuters