October 12, 2005

Zuma to face high court trial in 2006

Former South African deputy president Jacob Zuma, sacked in June after being linked to a high-profile graft case, will face a high court corruption trial starting in July 2006. Zuma, once seen as a likely successor to President Thabo Mbeki, remains a hugely popular figure with many grass roots supporters of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and its Communist and COSATU. His sacking has also polarised the ANC alliance and prompted vocal criticism of Mbeki and the leadership of the party, of which Zuma remains deputy president. The South African Communist Party, member of the ANC's ruling alliance, said it was "appalled", saying the delay until next July "further deepens the suspicion of a political trial". "We are of the view that unnecessary delays in this case re-affirm the perception that the deputy president of the ANC will not get a fair trial," it said in a statement.

Foreign donors and anti-corruption campaigners on the other hand welcomed Zuma's sacking as a blow against graft. But it triggered a wave of dissent among Zuma's supporters, particularly the ANC's unionist allies and grassroots supporters from Zuma's native KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa's most populous province. The challenge to the authority of Mbeki, who leads the party into municipal elections due by next March, was illustrated when a few Zuma supporters who turned out to cheer him at court, burnt a T-shirt bearing Mbeki's portrait. His supporters claim he was the victim of a conspiracy to remove him from running for office in 2009.

In the meantime, President Thabo Mbeki rounded on corrupt members of his ruling African National Congress who he said were contesting municipal elections to gain access to state resources. In his weekly Internet letter to the party Mbeki hit out at ANC members who he said planned to stand for council posts purely for material benefit. Some of the people who are competing to win nomination as our candidate local government councillors are obviously seeking support on the basis that once they are elected to positions of power, they will have access to material resources and the possibility to dispense patronage," he wrote. "These goings-on tell the naked truth that the ranks of our movement are being corrupted by a self-seeking spirit that leads some among us to view membership of our organisation as a stepping stone to access state power, which they would then use corruptly to plunder the people's resources for their personal benefit."

Infighting have arisen in some local ANC branches in the run-up to the polls, fuelled by a wave of protests by residents over poor public services, which analysts say have been motivated in part by would-be candidates jostling for position. In some areas disgruntled residents have threatened not to vote in the elections, which are widely expected to keep the vast majority of councils under ANC control. (Sapa)

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