Zuma appeared virtually before the Pietermaritzburg High Court on Monday, but his lawyer, Dali Mpofu, argued that the trial should be postponed until he can appear before the court in person. Further, he said the former president hadn’t been able to properly consult with his legal team after he surrendered himself on July 8 to serve an unrelated 15-month prison sentence for contempt of court.
Mpofu sought a three-week postponement, saying he expected the constitutional court to rule on Zuma’s suit attempting to rescind his jail term.
"This application is Stalingrad season 27," said Wim Trengove, a prosecutor for the government, in response to Zuma’s requested delay. Zuma, who was president from 2009 until 2018, has evaded prosecution for more than a decade by using any means at his disposal, including medical delays and legal disputes, which observers have referred to as his "Stalingrad defense.”
The court afterward adjourned until Tuesday morning.
According to Reuters, the courthouse in Pietermaritzburg, the capital of South Africa’s KwaZulu Natal Province, was defended by armored vehicles on Monday, as looting and unrest continued in some places after riots peaked last week. While initially breaking out in KZN, Zuma’s home province, after his arrest, they quickly snowballed into looting of stores, fanned in large part by a catastrophically high unemployment rate and renewed COVID-19 restrictions.
“It was feared or thought that Zuma’s supporters would use this hearing today as an opportunity to show their support for the former president,” Al Jazeera reporter Bernard Smith noted from Pietermaritzburg. “That’s why there’s a very heavy police and military presence. A park … where they normally gather has actually also been sealed off.”
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who replaced Zuma in 2018 after parliament cast a vote of no confidence in him, has said the riots were “a deliberate, coordinated and well-planned attack on our democracy.”
"These actions are intended to cripple the economy, cause social instability and severely weaken – or even dislodge – the democratic state,” Ramaphosa said Friday during a speech in which he announced 25,000 troops would soon be in the streets to restore order. “Using the pretext of a political grievance, those behind these acts have sought to provoke a popular insurrection."
More than 2,500 people have been arrested in connection with looting and violence, and more than 200 people have been killed, many of them by vigilantes.
Zuma is accused of taking bribes from Thales, a French defense firm, in connection with a 1999 defense deal made while he was deputy president under then-President Thabo Mbeki. He faces 16 counts of fraud, corruption and racketeering, which could land him in jail for 25 years. He is 79 years old.