South African Court Orders Graft Investigation against Zuma

Published: 14 December 2017

By Sinead Carolan

A South African court thwarted on Wednesday president Jacob Zuma’s attempt to block an investigation into his abuse of office and ordered the inquiry to be launched and finished within 180 days.

Zuma has been dogged by corruption allegations since he took office eight years ago. The court ruling came just days before the African National Congress is to choose Zuma’s successor within the party. The successor will likely stand as the favorite candidate in the 2019 national elections, the New York Times reported.

South Africa’s High Court declared that Mr. Zuma’s effort to gag a 350-page report detailing ‘state capture’ by special interests, as well as his attempt to prevent an official inquiry into his own wrong-doing, were illegal.

The High Court’s judge president, Dunstan Mlambo, accused Zuma of abusing the judicial process by blocking the corruption-inquiry, calling Zuma’s actions “ill-advised and reckless.” Judge Mlambo also stated that the accusations “detailed in the report are extremely serious,” and that Mr. Zuma had a “clear personal interest in the outcome of the inquiry.”

Zuma originally stated that he did not have to initiate a public inquiry based on the allegations in the report, invoking his discretion and power as president above the recommendation of the former public prosecutor Thulisile Madonsela.

However, Judge Mlambo has ruled against Zuma, ordering him a to set up an inquiry into the report’s allegations within the month and ensure that the inquiry is concluded within 180 days. Mlambo also said that Zuma should personally pay the costs he has accrued challenging the report and the recommendations made by Madonsela.

According to the New York Times, certain legal analysts believe that the High Court’s language has crossed a significant threshold of harshness in the long history of disputes between Zuma, prosecutors, and the judiciary.

OCCRP has previously reported on the contents of the report in question. The most serious allegations involve the prominent businessmen and Zuma associates, the Gupta brothers. The Guptas and their associates have successfully won lucrative government contracts, obtained bank loans on highly favorable terms, and use their political connections to dismiss and appoint senior public officials.

The recent court ruling requiring and official inquiry could cause tides to turn against Zuma within South Africa’s ruling ANC party. However, Zuma appears willing to appeal the decisions of the High Court.

Last week, Reuters reported that the High Court had ordered the removal of a chief prosecutor appointed by, and seen as favorable to, Mr. Zuma since the president was “conflicted.” This Thursday, Zuma filed an appeal against this very court ruling, hoping to keep his ally Shain Abrahams in charge of investigating corruption allegations against him.