DURBAN, South Africa – Former South African President Jacob Zuma told supporters on Friday that corruption charges against him should be dropped because he had done nothing wrong, after appearing in court for the second time relating to a $2.5 billion arms deal.
Zuma was ousted by the ruling African National Congress (ANC) in February after nine years in power.
He now faces 16 charges of fraud, racketeering, corruption and money laundering relating to the deal to buy European military hardware after apartheid ended in 1994. At that time, he was a provincial official.
The case is unusual because African leaders are rarely taken to court once they leave power, particularly when their own party remains in charge.
But President Cyril Ramaphosa has made fighting corruption a priority since he took power in February as part of a reform agenda that aims to revitalize the economy and attract investment.
Zuma’s lawyers say he will challenge the decision to prosecute the case. The speed with which prosecutors have moved against the 76-year-old is a sign of his waning influence since he was replaced by Ramaphosa, his former deputy.
“It’s obvious that the case should not go on,” Zuma told supporters from a stage in Durban, where High Court Judge Mjabuliseni Madondo earlier adjourned the arms deal case until July 27 after a 15-minute procedural hearing.
“I did nothing, there are people who just like to make trouble for me,” said Zuma, who remains popular in his Zulu heartland where the case is being heard.
Zuma shook hands and laughed with supporters as he left the court. Outside, hundreds of supporters sang his name and waved placards, while religious leaders gave tributes to him.
Zuma said he could reveal secrets about people who were still in power and who he said were corrupt.
Lawyers for the state and the defense are yet to agree on a date for trial. The state says it could be ready in November.
The national prosecutor this week turned down a request to delay Friday’s hearing pending the outcome of a separate court case over the state paying Zuma’s legal fees.
Charges over the arms deal were filed but then set aside by the National Prosecuting Authority shortly before Zuma ran for president in 2009. After his election, his opponents fought a lengthy legal battle to have the charges reinstated, finally succeeding in 2016.
Zuma’s supporters say the former president, whose nine years in power were marked by economic stagnation and credit rating downgrades, is the victim of a politically motivated witch-hunt.