Jacob Zuma off the hook as prosecution authority drops charges
By Miriam Mannak
The South African National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has dropped all twelve charges - for corruption, fraud, racketeering and money laundering against Jacob Zuma.
The case was built around 783 payments made to Zuma by his friend and financial advisor Schabir Shaik.
The decision to let the controversial politician and president of South Africa's governing party the ANC off the hook comes barely two weeks before the presidential elections, which will take place on April 22.
Acting director of the NPA, Mokotedi Mpshe, explained his decision - the 'most difficult one he has ever made '- by saying that Zuma was the victim of a political conspiracy to oust him from politics, and that key prosecutors had abused their powers in pursuing the case against the politician.
"It is neither possible nor desirable for the National Prosecuting Authority to continue with the prosecution of Mr. Zuma," Mpshe said during a press conference, which was held in Johannesburg and broad casted on national television.
As a result Zuma's way to the presidency has been cleared. It is widely expected that the ANC - a former struggle movement - will gain the majority of the votes during next month's elections.
While many South Africans, especially those living in Zuma's home province Kwa-Zulu Natal, hailed the NPA's decision, others were not so optimistic. "This means the end of democracy as we know it," said Peter Morrison from Cape Town. "It will set the trend for more corruption in the political arena, as now everyone knows that no action will be taken against you."
He referred to the 2005 Travel Gate scandal, during which 40 Members of Parliament were accused and charged of fraud. It was the biggest corruption scandal in post-apartheid South Africa.
While the MPs - 27 current and 13 former - were charged with illegally using parliamentary travel vouchers worth £1.5m to pay for lavish trips for themselves and relatives, those in office were never removed.
"It shows that not only politics, but also crime pays off," Morrison said. "This does not make the situation better."
The past years have been a rocky road for Zuma, who in 2005 was accused of raping a family friend who happened to by HIV positive. A year later, in May 2006, he was acquitted - a decision that sparked outrage among members of civil society.
One of the main reasons behind the anger was the fact that he chose to have unprotected sex with someone living with HIV, while having various wives at the same time. He explained himself by saying that he had not put himself and his family at risk because he had taken a shower, which he believed would protect him.
He then had to face charges of accepting bribes to thwart a probe into wrongdoing by a French arms company involved in a massive weapons deal in the late 1990s. Although the evidence in 2003 was declared not strong enough to go to court, the case was reopened after Schabir Shaik, a close of friend and business associate of Zuma, was sentenced to a long jail sentence for bribery and corruption.
Last month, however, Shaik was released on parole on medical grounds. Because of their relationship, which was classified as "generally corrupt" by a judge - Zuma came in the spotlights once again and as result, former President Thabo Mbeki fired him as his deputy.
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