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South Africa’s Zuma graft case delayed by funding woes

Former South African President Jacob Zuma (C) reacts as he leaves the Durban Magistrate Court in Durban, on June 8, 2018 at the end of a hearing where he faces over 16 corruption charges. The trial of Jacob Zuma has been postponed to July 27, 2018. He is charged with 16 counts that include fraud‚ corruption and racketeering. These charges relate to 783 payments which he allegedly received as a bribe to protect French arms company‚ Thales from an investigation into the controversial multi-billion rand arms deal. The alleged bribe was facilitated by Zuma’s former financial adviser‚ Schabir Shaik. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / Jackie CLAUSEN

South Africa’s ex-president Jacob Zuma appeared in court Friday ahead of a corruption trial, raising questions about ballooning legal costs before addressing adoring crowds outside who condemned his prosecution.

In front of Durban’s stone-fronted High Court, thousands of Zuma supporters sang anti-apartheid struggle songs, flew flags bearing Zuma’s face and chanted his name as he was swept into court flanked by tight security.

“It is very wrong to tell the people of this country that president Jacob Zuma is guilty before he has been judged,” a firebrand speaker told the animated crowd. “We believe in Jacob Zuma.”

Zuma, 76, who was forced to resign in February, has been charged with 16 counts of graft linked to an arms deal from before he became president and is expected to face trial from November.

After about 30 minutes of pre-trial legal discussions in a packed courtroom of the Durban High Court, Judge Mjabuliseni Madondo postponed the case to July 27.

Zuma’s legal team has sought to delay prosecution by arguing that the issue of his spiralling legal costs has not been adequately resolved.

Zuma has already spent 15.3 million rand ($1.3 million) of public money defending himself against corruption allegations linked to the arms deal affair, according to a government estimate.

Lawyer Billy Downer, for the prosecution, said an agreement had been reached to postpone the case to next month in the hope that by then there would be “answers related to his funding”.

Judge Madondo adjourned proceedings to July 27, to Pietermaritzburg court 80 kilometres (50 miles) west of Durban.

Zuma has sought to continue to receive state funding for his defence team but the main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party has gone to court to try to stop him using public funds.

Zuma’s lawyers have claimed that the DA’s case should be heard before the corruption trial can continue. No date has been set down for that ruling.

President Cyril Ramaphosa last month said he will abide by any court decision on who should pay Zuma’s legal costs.