SA Holds Its Breath as Judge Decides on Zuma
SA is holding its breath today as former deputy president Jacob Zuma is told whether he has been found guilty or acquitted at the end of a sensational rape trial that has rocked the nation and tested its young democracy.
In a foretaste of the passions the verdict is likely to arouse, thousands of Zuma supporters turned out in Soweto yesterday in a show of solidarity for their battered icon, just hours before Judge Willem van der Merwe hands down judgment in the Johannesburg High Court.
The outcome of Zuma’s date with destiny today could go a long way towards determining his — and SA’s — political future.
Van der Merwe will say whether he has found the African National Congress (ANC) deputy president guilty or not guilty of raping a 31-year-old, HIV-positive family friend last November.
The judge’s findings will cap months of high drama that have seen Zuma admit to having sex with the woman, but denying that he raped her. The verdict will also go a long way towards determining whether Zuma will retain the popularity and political standing to challenge for the party presidency in 2007, and whether he will go on to become president.
Yesterday, at Jubalini Amphitheatre in Soweto, up to 10000 followers showed their support for their idol.
Dressed in a black suit, Zuma said very little to the crowd, but joined musicians in belting out his trademark antiapartheid struggle song, Bring Me My Machine-gun.
“As you all know, I am on trial and I am not allowed to comment on my case,” Zuma said in Zulu, thanking the crowd for its show of support. “It gives me the strength to go on.”
The verdict will also be delivered amid speculation in the Sunday Times yesterday that Zuma’s accuser, known only as Khwezi, and who will not be present in court today, might go overseas into exile so as to protect her from Zuma’s supporters.
Her home in Durban has been burgled twice and she has also received death threats.
The newspaper said the decision to move the complainant abroad followed a high-level security assessment undertaken by officials from the police, the intelligence services and the witness protection programme in February.
Unlike other witnesses who are placed under the National Prosecuting Authority’s witness protection programme, the complainant has been under close police guard.
Central Johannesburg is bracing itself for chaotic scenes today when the verdict is delivered. At least 140 metro police officers will be deployed outside the court.
The court proceedings will be broadcast live on radio and television from 9am.
Metro police spokesman Chief Supt Wayne Minnaar said metro police would monitor vigils due to be held at various locations around the court last night.
Pritchard Street would be closed from 5am today between Von Wielligh and Eloff streets. Kruis Street would be closed between President and Pritchard streets.
The Friends of Jacob Zuma Trust has arranged for more than 20 buses to ferry supporters from outside Johannesburg.
Zuma appeared unfazed by the impending judgment yesterday as he sat and watched a number of Zulu maskandi groups perform. There was a huge roar when he went to address the crowd, behind a praise singer and surrounded by a huge security cordon, his family and three chiefs related to him from KwaZulu-Natal.
Zuma thanked the crowd, who paid an entrance fee of R25 in support of his legal costs — estimated to be in the millions.
Zuma’s supporters, in expectation that he might be acquitted, have also organised a rally today at the Beyers Naudé Square in Johannesburg where Zuma is expected to speak after the court proceedings.
Donors to the Friends of the Jacob Zuma Trust have largely remained anonymous, but Tiger Brands, Durban-based food processor Tongaat-Hulett and some maskandi musicians yesterday appeared to have provided music, hampers and free tea to the supporters. But Tiger Brands financial officer Noel Doyle said the hampers could only have “inadvertently found their way into the concert”. The company was investigating how this had happened. Tongaat-Hulett was not available for comment.
Legal Affairs Correspondent
With acknowledgement to Ernest Maura and Business Day.