JOHANNESBURG – A South African court on Friday dealt a legal blow to President Jacob Zuma, opening the way to the reinstatement of 783 charges of corruption and fraud against him.
The Supreme Court of Appeal upheld a lower court’s ruling that a 2009 decision by state prosecutors to drop the charges against Zuma was irrational. The president, who has faced calls for his resignation because of a series of scandals, and the National Prosecuting Authority had appealed the lower court’s ruling.
The charges against Zuma were initially instituted in 2005 before he became president and after former business partner Shabir Shaik was convicted of fraud and corruption, according to the appeals court. They are partly linked to alleged bribes that Zuma received in connection with a South African arms deal while he was deputy president.
The allegations against Zuma have hurt the popularity of the ruling African National Congress party, the main anti-apartheid movement that has led since the end of white minority rule in 1994. Some former loyalists in the ruling party have called for Zuma’s ouster as a way to restore confidence in the ANC. The president’s second five-year term is set to run until elections in 2019.
Zuma’s office described the appeals court ruling as “disappointing” and indicated that it will continue to argue that he should not be prosecuted, saying it expects that “a legitimate decision will be made.”
The Democratic Alliance, South Africa’s main opposition party, welcomed the ruling and said it will write to the chief state prosecutor, Shaun Abrahams, to demand that Zuma appears in court as soon as possible to face the charges.
“If the President is innocent, as he proclaims, he ought to let a trial court decide on his innocence,” said Mmusi Maimane, leader of the Democratic Alliance.
Maimane speculated that the charges were originally shelved because “a political solution needed to be found to drop charges against a person who was about to become president.”
The ANC said after the ruling that it has “full confidence in our judiciary and the options it offers to all aggrieved parties” and that it will study the judgment.
While Zuma retains the backing of some powerful factions in his party, many South Africans are angry over his association with the Guptas, a family of Indian immigrant businessmen accused of looting state funds and influencing top government appointments for their own benefit. Zuma and the Guptas have denied wrongdoing.
In another scandal, Zuma was forced to reimburse some state money after the constitutional Court ruled against him last year in a dispute over millions of dollars spent on his private home.
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