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Ex deputy president casts long shadow

[South Africa] Jacob Zuma.
SA Government

Former South African deputy president Jacob Zuma appeared before a magistrate on Tuesday to face charges of corruption, bolstered by the support of chanting, ululating crowds outside the courthouse.

Zuma's supporters gathered overnight at the Durban Magistrate's Court, in coastal KwaZulu-Natal, and burst into song upon his arrival, chanting 'Zuma, my president'. They pledged solidarity with the ruling party African National Congress (ANC) stalwart who has been embraced by the 'left wing' as their champion.

Zuma faces two charges of corruption relating to dealings with his former financial advisor, Schabir Shaik, who was recently convicted of fraud in connection with South Africa's controversial multibillion rand arms procurement deal.

National Directorate of Public Prosecutions spokesman Makhosini Nkosi told IRIN the state had asked for more time to prepare its case against Zuma and the former deputy president was not asked to plead to any charges in court.

"The state has still to produce an indictment - we asked for a postponement to allow for further investigations. The case was postponed to 12 November, when it will be transferred to the High Court and a trial date will be set," he said.

Nkosi added that although investigations were ongoing, "the question of further charges did not arise" in court.

Zuma's bail was extended, and a court application to have documents seized from his lawyer's office returned would be opposed, Nkosi noted.

President Thabo Mbeki's decision to fire Zuma and the charges of corruption laid against him by the Scorpions, South Africa's FBI-style elite crime unit, have caused division within the ANC and increased tension among its alliance partners, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the South African Communist Party (SACP).

COSATU secretary-general Zwelinzima Vavi was among the prominent Zuma supporters at the Durban Magistrate's Court on Tuesday. Several high-profile ANC figures, including secretary-general Kgalema Motlanthe and head of presidency Smuts Ngonyama, were also present to observe the proceedings.

Both the SACP and COSATU have been vocal supporters of Zuma, calling for Mbeki to quash the charges against him and reinstate him as deputy president, alleging the criminal case was the result of a political plot to end his chances of succeeding Mbeki in 2009.

After a series of successful prosecutions of ANC leaders by the Scorpions, the unit itself is now under threat.

The Scorpions have been accused of abuse of power, or alternatively allowing themselves to be used to settle political scores. But their independence is seen as a critical part of South Africa's commitment to democratic governance.

Mbeki appointed Judge Sisi Khampepe to lead an inquiry into the continued existence of the Scorpions, and whether the directorate should stay within the Department of Justice, be scrapped or absorbed into the police - as requested by police commissioner Jackie Selebi.

Nkosi said the Khampepe commission was still investigating the issue and the Scorpions would also make a submission regarding the unit's future.

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