12 January 2009

South Africa: Top Court Sparks Upset Over Zuma, Mbeki

Cape Town — South Africa's Supreme Court of Appeal has opened the way for prosecutors to reinstitute corruption charges against Jacob Zuma, the man selected by the ruling African National Congress (ANC) as the next president of the country.

In a ruling handed down on Monday, the court upheld an appeal by prosecutors against a lower court ruling which declared invalid on procedural grounds a decision to prosecute Zuma.

In overturning the ruling, the appeal court also rejected reasoning by the lower court judge which precipitated the dismissal of former president Thabo Mbeki last September. Referring to suggestions by the judge that there had been a political conspiracy against Zuma, the appellate judges said he had overstepped his authority by making findings unsupported by evidence.

However, the appeal judgment did not concern the legality of the ANC's decision to call on Mbeki to step down, nor of his resignation. It thus does not affect the position of President Kgalema Motlanthe, nominated by the ANC to fill Mbeki's position as president of South Africa until national elections expected in April this year.

But the judgment is likely to focus attention during the coming election campaign on the ANC's choice of a leader facing allegations of corruption as its presidential candidate. The issue was cited by ANC leaders who broke away to form a new party as a key consideration in their actions, and the ANC confirmed within minutes of the delivery of Monday's judgment that Zuma remained their choice as president.

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