South Africa: Zuma Calms Fears, Cagey On Charges

Johannesburg — AFRICAN National Congress (ANC) president Jacob Zuma refused to be drawn yesterday on the possibility of his facing a fresh corruption trial, saying it would be "speculative".

Zuma, who has not been charged, told reporters at his first press conference as the new leader of the party he would "cross that bridge when I get there".

"If I start arguing about it now, I will be philosophising on speculation. Why should I speculate on something that does not exist?"

Mokotedi Mpshe, acting National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) head, said yesterday the state's case against Zuma was ready and a decision on whether to prosecute him afresh on charges relating to the arms deal was imminent.

New ANC treasurer Mathews Phosa responded by describing Mpshe's statement as an abuse of power by the NPA. He said this was why the ANC conference had resolved that the Scorpions crime-fighting unit should be incorporated into the police.

As ANC president, Zuma will be in pole position to become SA's president in 2009 if his party wins the general election.

A lengthy trial would present the party with the difficult choice of whether to put Zuma forward as presidential candidate.

In his first speech to the ANC's elective conference in Polokwane, Zuma outlined a smooth continuation of economic policies, intended to ease jitters among the international investment community about a shift to the left, but he also emphasised matters such as crime, HIV/AIDS and land reform.

Addressing persistent speculation, Zuma said there would be no shift in economic policy from the path the ANC had been pursuing since it came to power.

Zuma first extended a hand of reconciliation to archrival Thabo Mbeki, acknowledging the role his predecessor had played in the ANC and promising that the two would develop "smooth working relations between the government and the ruling party".

Despite the acrimonious rift that has surprised even those in the thick of it, the party has officially closed ranks again.

Zuma spoke warmly of Mbeki, acknowledging him as a "brother, a friend and, indeed, my leader".

But he also noted the squabbles that had beset the party and in a veiled reference to Mbeki's unwillingness to deal with differences in the past, said: "What we have learnt from this conference is that if the leadership fails to resolve issues, or grasp the feelings of the membership on issues that concern the movement and instead appears to perpetuate the problems, the membership takes over and asserts its authority."

On HIV/AIDS, Zuma called for the treatment of and support for families who were affected, in line with the party slogan of a caring society.

With Ernest Mabuza

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