Jacob Zuma did not suffer reputational damage because of delays in bringing his case to trial, but rather because of damning evidence revealed in court and his association to his former financial adviser, Schabir Shaik.
That was the argument on the third day of court proceedings in the KwaZulu-Natal High Court in Pietermaritzburg where both ex-president Zuma and French arms manufacturing company Thales made applications for a permanent stay of criminal charges in a case that started in 2003.
Both face charges relating to fraud and corruption committed in the 1990s in the controversial multibillion-rand arms deal.
Representing the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), Advocate Wim Trengove said he agreed that Zuma suffered from reputational harm after then national director of public prosecutions Bulelani Ngcuka announced his decision not to prosecute.
He said the harm was not caused by the delays in the court proceedings but rather by the series of “damning court findings”.
He argued even with the reputational damage Zuma claims to have suffered from the case and being fired as the deputy president by then president Thabo Mbeki, his career “still flourished” and he ended up as president.
Trengove went on to argue that Zuma has used a “Stalingrad defence”, extensive litigation, to delay being prosecuted on the merits of the case, at huge expense to the public. Referring to it as the “luxurious litigation designed to delay”, Trengove said Zuma’s legal expenses were between R16 million and R32 million. He then outlined the reasons for the several delays in the case.
He said Zuma and his legal team had used a consistent pattern of litigation that was specifically designed to delay prosecution. Trengove argued that disputes caused by Zuma challenging the court over the years about the charges led to the delay in prosecution. He said “the litigation endured for almost 14 years without interruption, barring one month. He lost all of those cases”.
Judge Thoba Poyo-Dlwati agreed with Trengove that Zuma’s disputes had led to delays but said that tactic was only successful in lower courts and overturned when it reached higher courts. Trengove responded by saying Zuma could not then “complain about the delays caused by the disputes”.
He told the full bench of judges that it was important to see all as equal under the law, despite Zuma’s powerful status. He added: “There is a great public interest in seeing this case prosecuted.”