jacob zuma arms deal

Date set for arms deal trial – An appearance Zuma can’t miss

Andile Sicetsha - 23.02.2021

Jacob Zuma faces another blow from the judiciary as a trial date has been set for his Arms Deal case.

Jacob Zuma may dread this year for what it’s shaping up to be for the former president.

Arms Deal trial date set for May showdown

On Tuesday, the Pietermaritzburg High Court accepted the National Prosecuting Authority’s (NPA) application to move the Arms Deal trial date to Monday 17 May 2021.

The former president, a stickler for skipping out, was not present for the final pre-trial hearing. His legal team, for the most part of proceedings, concurred with the State’s request to delay the trial for three months.

“Matters outstanding which were preventing matter from going to trial have since been resolved,” the public prosecutors wrote in a statement.

The Arms Deal case has staggered on for years with questionable practices adopted by the NPA. This time around, however, the prosecutors revealed that a number of events preceding the pre-trial hearing had to be concluded before a trial commencement date could be proposed.

For one, Thales’ application to set aside two authorisations of the POCA racketeering charge, signed by former NDPPs Advocate Mokotedi Mpshe SC and Shaun Abrahams in 2007 and 2018, respectively, was denied by the high court in January.

Legal administrative issues between the State and Thales’ defence also hampered proceedings but, perhaps, the most impactful was Covid-19.

There are more than 200 witnesses in the Arms Deal saga, from different regions in the world, and their participation in the trial could be affected by cautionary restrictions to international travel.

“That issue remains a consideration. The future is unknown and none of us think it’s a reason to hold up the start of the trial and we all agree we are ready for trial. It’s merely a question of setting the trial date,” the public prosecutor noted.

The trial has a tentative end date of 20 June 2021. It remains unclear if, by then, the former president will still be a free man.

Zuma’s crossroads – Does he fold to the judiciary he scorns?

The 78-year-old must still learn of his fate for defying an order issued by the Constitutional Court to appear before the State Capture Inquiry.

If the commission gets its way with its plea for a two-year prison term, Zuma could be in orange overalls by the start of the Arms Deal trial.

The former president still has the opportunity of a peaceful path to the dock in Pietermaritzburg, if he reverses his defiance and shows up to testify before Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo before 31 March 2021.

However, it seems Zuma’s cause is greater than adhering to the rule of law. The former president is at war with the very fabric of our democracy – the judiciary.

It remains unclear what his next move is. A man left with very little options, trapped in a maze where his every move is closely watched by media hawks.