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Jacob Zuma 'risked his life' to attend court, says defence advocate Muzi Sikhakhane

Former president Jacob Zuma was present at the Pietermaritzburg high court on Tuesday 'because he wants to see justice prevail', according to his legal representative.
Former president Jacob Zuma was present at the Pietermaritzburg high court on Tuesday 'because he wants to see justice prevail', according to his legal representative.
Image: Sandile Ndlovu

Former president Jacob Zuma “risked his life” to attend Tuesday's court proceedings amid the coronavirus pandemic because he was afraid another warrant for his arrest would be issued against him.

That's the word from his advocate Muzi Sikhakhane, who spoke to SowetanLIVE  shortly after the matter was postponed to September in the Pietermaritzburg high court.

“In February, Mr Zuma was lying ill in bed in Cuba and a warrant of arrest was issued. That put fear into an old man so he has come to court today. He wants to see justice prevail.”

Judge Kate Pillay cancelled the warrant that was issued in February after a letter, with full particulars on why Zuma was not in court in February, was submitted from his doctor.

Earlier roles were reversed when Sikhakhane told the court that Zuma's legal team was ready for the trial to start in October, while state prosecutor Billy Downer had argued that the trial could not be set down for 2020 as many circumstances, including a request for further particulars and the Covid-19 pandemic, would delay proceedings.

In the past the defence team was accused of adopting a “Stalingrad approach” — launching many court applications to delay the start of the corruption trial — while the state has always said it was ready to proceed.

Sikhakhane told the court on Tuesday that Downer kept shifting the goalposts when he had stated no less than seven times since 2018, when the charges were reinstated against Zuma, that the state was ready to proceed.

“I have had to read 3,000 to 4,000 pages of documentation to accommodate a state prosecutor who has said more than seven times that the state is ready to proceed, but now he wants to change the timetable,” he said.

Downer argued that the state was made to look like the “bad boy” when the defence had only requested further particulars on June 19.

He said the proceedings began in 2006, but Zuma's team started to debate the merits of the case only now.

Downer explained that he could not commit to a pretrial certification date in August as the Covid-19 pandemic had even delayed the request for further particulars.

The forensic team working on the matter was quarantined for 14 days.

Downer said the state could also not commit to a trial date in October as it had many international witnesses on its witness list and there was uncertainty about when travel bans would be lifted.

“When we set targets and dates, we take chances and events overtake it and we don't keep promises. I don't want to over-promise and underdeliver,” he said.

Pillay adjourned the matter to September 8 as a holding date.

Meanwhile, Zuma's co-accused, French-based arms maker Thales, plans to bring a civil review application for clarity on the racketeering charges against it.

Zuma is accused of receiving an annual bribe of R500,000 from Thales for protection from an investigation into the controversial multibillion-rand arms deal.

The alleged bribe was facilitated by Zuma’s former financial adviser‚ Schabir Shaik.

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