JOHANNESBURG – Former South African President Jacob Zuma says he is ready for his trial on charges of corruption, racketeering, and money laundering.
Zuma appeared at the Pietermaritzburg High Court on Monday where the trial was adjourned to May 26 when he will announce his plea.
He is accused of receiving bribes from French arms manufacturer Thales through his then financial advisor Schabir Shaik, who was convicted of related corruption charges in 2005.
The first witness in the trial will be Public Works Minister Patricia De Lille, who was among the first to allege that the 1999 arms sale was tainted by corruption.
De Lille compiled a dossier that she says has documents that prove influential members of the ruling party, the African National Congress, corruptly benefitted from the government’s lucrative contracts with international arms manufacturers and suppliers.
De Lille was in court Monday and has been asked to appear when the trial resumes next week.
Several ANC leaders and a crowd of Zuma's supporters dressed in colorful ANC outfits showed up at the courthouse to demonstrate their backing for the former president.
Zuma’s trial starts as the ANC party is torn between President Cyril Ramaphosa, who has pledged to root out corruption, and a faction supporting Zuma and others accused of graft. One of Zuma's most prominent supporters is Ace Magashule, who has been suspended as the party's secretary-general because he is also facing criminal corruption charges.
A defiant Magashule told supporters in front of the courthouse that he would not be silenced even though the terms of his suspension specify that he may not publicly mobilize or address ANC supporters.
“Nobody under a democracy will ban me, nobody will remove the ANC from me," he said.
Former ANC member of parliament Tony Yengeni, who was found guilty of corruption in 2003 and served a prison sentence, also attended the opening of the trial and voiced his support for Zuma.
“This is nothing else but a political trial. President Zuma is being persecuted. No trial in South Africa has ever taken this long, where a person has been coming to court for 20 years,” Yengeni told supporters outside court.