S African court backs state appeal in Zuma case

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JOHANNESBURG, Nov 8 (Reuters) A South African court breathed life into a stalled corruption case today against former Deputy President Jacob Zuma, possibly hurting his push to take over as leader of the ruling ANC party and the country.

The Supreme Court of Appeal sided with prosecutors and ruled that documents seized from Zuma and his lawyer in police raids could be used in future corruption proceedings against him.

The court in Bloemfontein overturned a lower court decision that the documents were inadmissible. It also rejected Zuma's appeal against another lower court ruling allowing the state to obtain documents in Mauritius allegedly connected to the case.

Zuma, who remains deputy president of the African National Congress, has seen his image tarnished by the scandal just when the party's leadership race enters its final stretch.

The ANC picks a new leader next month and its president has traditionally become the state president because of the party's electoral dominance.

Zuma and President Thabo Mbeki are seen as frontrunners but speculation has been growing that widely-respected business tycoon Cyril Ramaphosa could join the race as it closes.

Analysts say it is hard to tell if the court decision would undermine Zuma.

''Mbeki has suffered as well and Zuma could present himself as a martyr,'' said political analyst Susan Booysen of the University of Witwatersrand.

South Africa's powerful COSATU trade union said it was still firmly behind Zuma despite the court decision.

Bribery and fraud charges tied to Zuma's alleged role in an arms deal were dismissed last year over procedural issues.

In a statement, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) said it was pleased with the rulings but stopped short of saying whether it would charge Zuma again.

''The decision whether to prosecute or not to prosecute has not been taken by the NPA on this matter,'' it said.

POWER STRUGGLE Supporters of Zuma have described the corruption investigation as a political conspiracy to prevent him from winning the ANC leadership and, ultimately, the presidency of South Africa, the continent's economic powerhouse.

State and party president Mbeki, who fired Zuma in 2005, has strongly hinted he will run for a third term as ANC leader.

Critics accuse Mbeki of hurting South Africa's democracy by stifling dissent, which he denies. His government has struggled to ease widespread crime and poverty.

A Mbeki victory would ensure he held significant sway over the party before being forced to step down as the nation's leader in two years' time. If Zuma were to win the party leadership, that would establish two rival centres of power.

Ramaphosa has the historical credentials to be the spoiler.

The former trade unionist was the ANC's chief negotiator during talks that led to a peaceful end to apartheid in 1994 and Nelson Mandela becoming South Africa's first black president.

''I would not be surprised if Ramaphosa joined in. From conversations I have had, people want wider choices because they feel the current candidates have huge flaws,'' said Booysen.

REUTERS NY KP2242

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