Jacob Zuma trial carries added risk for ANC

Prosecution of former president could further divide ruling party and harm its election prospects

Jacob Zuma faces 16 counts of corruption
(Image credit: Simon Maina/AFP/Getty Imges)

The prosecution of former South African president Jacob Zuma for corruption has been hailed as a victory for his succesor, Cyril Ramaphosa. “Yet it also carries risks for his ruling African National Congress,” says Bloomberg.

Zuma is facing 16 charges including fraud, racketeering and money laundering, relating to a 30bn rand (£1.7bn) deal to modernise the country’s defences in the late 1990s.

Zuma is alleged to have sought bribes from French arms supplier Thales to support his extravagant lifestyle. His financial adviser at the time was found guilty of soliciting bribes in 2005 and Zuma was later sacked as deputy president - although the original charges were controversially dropped shortly before he became president in 2009.

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But while the BBC says “his political enemies, particularly the opposition, are celebrating that he is closer to facing a judge in court than ever before”, others are more cautious.

“Not only will a drawn-out trial be a constant reminder to voters that he was enmeshed in scandal for most of the nine years he led South Africa,” says Bloomberg, “it raises uncomfortable questions about why the ANC, parliament and prosecutors failed to take action against him before”.

Zuma is reported to be preparing a defence that argues all he did wrong was to allow black companies to benefit from the arms deal. This “will certainly put the ANC on trial in the year the party is supposed to be campaigning for elections”, says News24, and it may also let the National Prosecuting Authority charge some members of the party with corruption.

The case could threaten to further split an already deeply divided party, while a long drawn-out trial could dominate next year’s presidential election campaign just as Ramaphosa will be looking to frame himself as a new broom sweeping away years of graft and corruption.

His problems will be further multiplied if the court returns a guilty verdict – meaning the current president could choose to pardon his long-time colleague and draw a line under the affair but risk being accused of cronyism himself.

Since Ramaphosa was elected leader of the ANC in December, “there’s been a growing sense that the party can reverse the decline in its popular support”, says Bloomberg, but Zuma could still have some part to play in whether his successor can prosper long-term.

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