Something happened last Friday morning that many people, for different reasons, thought would never happen: Jacob Zuma appeared in the High Court in Durban, to answer to 16 charges on 783 counts of fraud, bribery, corruption and racketeering.
That Mr Zuma was not asked to plead is beside the point. What matters is that the matter finally made it to court, after almost a decade of interminable delays, all of which were engineered by Mr Zuma and his legal counsel, in a self-confessed effort to avoid the day in court he is on record as welcoming so he he can clear his good name.
When advocate Billy Downer, appearing for the State, stood before the bench and agreed to a postponement to Friday June 8, the dissappointment in the court was palpable: once more, Mr Zuma’s Stalingrad strategy had managed to delay proceedings, as his counsel in 2009, Kemp J Kemp had warned would happen.
No sooner had National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP), Shaun Abrahams, announced that Mr Zuma’s representations had been unsuccessful and that the indictment would be re-served, than Mr Zuma’s counsel, Michael Hulley, announced that decision would be taken on review.
The DA has also decided to challenge the legal agreement concluded in 2006 between the State and Mr Zuma, whereby the State will pay his legal costs if he is found not guilty.
Mr Hulley did attempt to delay the April 6 court date, on the grounds that these two matters ought to be allowed to play out before Mr Zuma appeared, but the courts and the NDPP, quite rightly, disregarded these red herring blandishments, and the accused had no option but to appear.
Why did Mr Downer appear to so easily agree to the postponement? After all, he has waited for almost a decade to proceed with this matter.
He was the lead prosecutor on the NPA team that composed the original indictment, and when acting NDPP, Mokotedi Mpshe, chose to – irrationally – withdraw the charges in 2009, he objected volubly, because he was convinced that the case was winnable.
Listening to him on Friday, it is obvious that he is still convinced.
Having agreed to the Friday June 8 postponement, he smoothly went on to note that the court roll is empty from Monday November 12, and suggested to the bench that the matter be set down for trial on that day.
Which means he is confident that Mr Zuma’s decision to take the re-serving of the indictment on review will be unsuccessful, and that the matter of Mr Zuma’s legal fees has no bearing on the mater anyway, which of course it doesn’t.
Who pays Mr Zuma’s legal fees is tangential to the matter before the courts, but for Mr Zuma, it is a grave matter.
Squandering taxpayers’ money on fruitless review and appeal applications is very different to squandering one’s own money, and Mr Zuma must also confront another unpleasant possibility: if the DA’s court challenge of that agreement is successful, Mr Zuma’s counsel might think twice before engaging in endless court actions, if payment of their legal fees is no longer guaranteed.
More than one legal expert – constitutional law expert Pierre de Vos and ace jurist, advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi – have already expressed the opinion that the agreement is probably unconstitutional.
Mr Zuma’s counsel quite naturally agreed to the postponement to Friday June 8, but coyly suggested that it would be prudent to await the outcomes of Mr Zuma’s review application and the DA’s challenge to the funding agreement, as if either matter would influence the day on which Mr Zuma will have to sit in the dock as the case unfolds, the 200-odd witnesses for the prosecution give testimony, and the thousands of pages of evidence are submitted into the record.
The heads of argument in Mr Zuma’s review application should make interesting reading, because after his dramatic climb down in the Supreme Court of Appeals last year, in which his counsel conceded that Mr Mpshe’s 2009 decision to withdraw charges was indeed irrational, the legal cupboard is bare.
Even the argument that he has been denied a speedy trial is baseless, because every delay in bringing thas matter before the court, has been at Mr Zuma’s behest in relentless pursuit of his Stalingrad strategy. And the court knows this.
Mr Zuma is also more or less out in the cold as far as the ANC is concerned.
After its last meeting, the NEC issued a statment enjoining its members to refrain from using any party structures to rally support for Mr Zuma’s cause.
Any such support, the NEC said, would be entirely of a personal nature, and members were requested to not wear party colours or regalia if they choose to attend court.
That appeal clearly fell on deaf ears, if the blizzard of black, green and gold at the Durban High Court on Friday morning was any indication.
Surprisingly, ANC KwaZulu-Natal leader, Sihle Zikalala, also appeared on stage after the court proceedings, one of many praise-singers, along with a solid phalanx of religious leaders, who unctuously declared their belief in Mr Zuma’s innocence, but none of this, thankfully, will get him off the hook.