8 May 2006
The former South African Deputy President Jacob Zuma was on Monday May 8th acquitted of rape charges pressed against him by a 31-year old HIV-positive woman. In delivering his lengthy four-hour judgement, the presiding judge Willem van der Merwe of the Johannesburg high court concluded that sex between Zuma and his accuser had been consensual. “The prosecution has failed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt”. Said the judge. Zuma supporters noisily celebrated the outcome of this case that has polarized the ruling ANC party and the country. “Today the bad dreams have evaporated”. Zuma said while addressing a jubilant crowd. He also attacked the press for breaking the “golden rule” which states that “a person who is charged remains innocent until proven otherwise.”
Pro-Zuma groups had over the weekend organized concerts to raise funds for his fight and also camped around the court premises for an all night vigil prior to the day of ruling.
The allege rape victim and family friend of Zuma claimed the incident occurred in November last year at Zuma’s residence. In defending himself, Zuma admitted that he had unprotected sex with the woman (he knew was HIV-positive) but said the sexual intercourse was consensual and was at the behest of the woman. Zuma’s testimony (especially when he said that he took a shower after the sexual act to limit contracting AIDS) caused some consternation within the anti-AIDS circles. This was so because as deputy president, Zuma also headed the National AIDS Council and The Moral Regeneration Movement.
The ruling ANC has been virtually divided between pro and anti-Zuma camps as the battle for the leadership of their party heats up ahead of the 2007 congress.
Zuma was a rising star within the South African political establishment and he comes from the leading black Zulu tribe. He was widely seen as the likely person that was to become the next president of South Africa until a corruption scandal implicating him (trial due next year) forced him to step down as vice president. Some of Jacob Zuma’s supporters see the hidden hand of Thabo Mbeki (SA president) behind their hero’s legal headaches. For them, it is an Mbeki Vs Zuma affair and not the rape and corruption charges that they consider as subterfuge. They claim that Zuma is being framed in order to discredit and block him from being South Africa’s future president. In order to allay these suspicions the South African government immediately issued a statement after the verdict expressing “satisfaction” at the outcome and reiterating confidence in the “independence” of the judiciary.
Zuma is a militant freedom fighter that served time in jail for opposing the Apartheid regime. He has been very active and visible within the ranks of the ANC since the demise of Apartheid. His ethnic group (largest single group) constitutes 23% of the population of South Africa. He cashed on this ‘ethnic sympathy’ when he decided to use his tribal language during the rape trial instead of English which he understands and speaks well. Zuma the Zulu and his supporters understand that the only thing that can stand between him and the presidency is the South African Judiciary. They have seen how bruises with the South African courts have compromised the political careers of high profile compatriots like Allan Boesak and Winnie Mandela.
Zuma has won the case but many observers believe that his credibility and reputation has been severely damaged by this trial. The next corruption trial may finally clip his political wings forever.
Njei Moses Timah