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Former South African President Jacob Zuma delays corruption trial with appeal4 minutes read

If it goes ahead, the trial would be the first time Zuma faces a court on graft charges

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Former South African President Jacob Zuma delays corruption trial with appeal
South Africa's embattled former president Jacob Zuma (C) appears in the Pietermaritzburg High Court where he is appearing on corruption charges, in what would be the first time he faces trial for graft despite multiple accusations, in Pietermaritzburg on October 15, 2019. - Zuma stands accused of taking kickbacks before he became president from a 51-billion-rand ($3.4-billion) purchase of fighter jets, patrol boats and military equipment manufactured by five European firms, including French defence company Thales. (Photo by Michele Spatari / POOL / AFP)

The corruption trial of South Africa’s embattled former President Jacob Zuma has been delayed again after his lawyer announced Tuesday he would appeal.

The last-minute move pushes back a long-awaited trial over bribery allegations dating back to a 1990s arms deal. Zuma dismissed the charges as a conspiracy.

If it goes ahead, the trial would be the first time Zuma faces a court on graft charges, despite a string of accusations over his long political career.

The High Court in the southeastern city of Pietermaritzburg last week rejected his request to have 16 charges of fraud, graft and racketeering dismissed, clearing the way for the trial to start on Tuesday.

READ: Ex-South African President Jacob Zuma claims he has been vilified

But Zuma’s lawyer Thabani Masuku told the court at the start of the trial that the ex-president would appeal, dragging on a case that has seen numerous legal twists over 15 years.

After the hearing, Zuma told a small group of supporters gathered outside court that “there have been many conspirators against me”. 

“There is no justice that will be served by continuing with this case,” he told the crowd in Zulu.

Zuma was forced to resign as president last year by the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party after a nine-year reign marred by corruption allegations and dwindling popularity.

He is accused of taking bribes worth R4 million when he was deputy president from a R51 billion 1999 arms purchase by five European firms, including French defence company Thales.

Both Zuma and Thales, which are accused of paying the bribes and was also to stand trial, deny the charges.

‘Another cunning move’ –

Former South African President Jacob Zuma delays corruption trial with appeal
South Africa’s embattled former president Jacob Zuma (C) appears in the Pietermaritzburg High Court where he is appearing on corruption charges, in what would be the first time he faces trial for graft despite multiple accusations, in Pietermaritzburg on October 15, 2019. (Photo by Michele Spatari / POOL / AFP)

The appeal, which must be filed by November 1, will be heard on November 22. If denied, proceedings are scheduled to resume on the provisional date of February 4.

READ: Jacob Zuma’s son denies offering $40 million bribe to former South African minister

State lawyer Billy Downer told the court that the prosecution believed the appeal would fail and requested the trial starts as soon as possible.

Legal analysts have said a delay would have been likely even without the appeal, given the size of the case.

For its part, Zuma’s defence team maintained that the ex-president had been ready for trial for 14 years.

Legal expert Pierre de Vos of the University of Cape Town said that “if all the courts refuse to hear the appeal, there will be a short delay.”

“If they hear the appeal there will be another year or two before they can begin a trial,” he told reporters, adding that he could face 15 years in jail if found guilty.

Analysts have warned that if Zuma goes on trial, he will drag down with him many leaders of Nelson Mandela’s ANC, which has governed the country since the end of apartheid in 1994.

The opposition Democratic Alliance party in a statement slammed “yet another cunning move by Zuma to avoid jail” and called for the government to ensure the ex-president pay his legal fees.

After a court ruled last year that he should pay his own way, Zuma claimed he was so broke that he had to sell his socks.

‘Teflon president’ –

Former South African President Jacob Zuma delays corruption trial with appeal
South Africa’s embattled former president Jacob Zuma (L) leaves the Pietermaritzburg High Court where he is appearing on corruption charges, in what would be the first time he faces trial for graft despite multiple accusations, in Pietermaritzburg on October 15, 2019. (Photo by Michele Spatari / POOL / AFP)

Critics have dubbed Zuma the “Teflon president” for his reputed ability to evade judicial reckoning.

READ: Former South African President Zuma receives court order to face corruption scandal

He has also been accused of organising the systematic plunder of government coffers in a scandal known as “state capture”.

He appeared at an inquiry into the scandal in July, putting on a defiant performance and denying all wrongdoing.

Zuma’s successor President Cyril Ramaphosa told a conference hosted by the Financial Times in London this week that corruption during Zuma’s administration is estimated to have cost the country more than R500 billion.

Ramaphosa has vowed to tackle deep-seated corruption but faces opposition from powerful senior ANC members, many of whom remain Zuma allies.

“Zuma was in charge for nearly two terms but did very little for us ordinary people,” Sakhile Dube, a 30-year-old clothes seller, told reporters outside the Pietermaritzburg court.

“We are still waiting to see if Ramaphosa can assist us and remedy the situation,” he added. 

READ: Former South African President Zuma withdraws from graft inquiry

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North Africa Politics

Mubarak given state funeral, Egypt declares 3-day national mourning

Mubarak’s sons Alaa and Gamal, joined by soldiers, walked next to their father’s coffin at a huge mosque built by the army in a Cairo suburb where the funeral took place.

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Guards carry the coffin of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak as they arrive at Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi Mosque, during his funeral east of Cairo, Egypt February 26, 2020. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

Egypt on Wednesday held a military funeral in Cairo to bury its former president and strongman ruler, Hosni Mubarak, who ruled for 30 years until he was ousted in a 2011 popular uprising against corruption as part of the Arab Spring.

Egypt’s presidency and armed forces mourned the former air force officer as a hero for his role in the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. The presidency also declared three days of national mourning.

Mubarak’s sons Alaa and Gamal, joined by soldiers, walked next to their father’s coffin at a huge mosque built by the army in a Cairo suburb where the funeral took place, a Reuters report said.

Mubarak died on Tuesday in intensive care weeks after undergoing surgery, leaving Egyptians divided over his legacy presiding over an era of stagnation and repression, which some nevertheless recall as more stable than the chaos that followed.

He was swept out of power as an early victim of the “Arab Spring” revolutions that swept the region in 2011. He spent many of the subsequent years in jail and military hospitals before being freed in 2017.

Egypt’s top military officials were expected to attend the funeral. Mubarak’s coffin was to be airlifted from the Field Marshall Tantawi mosque to the family burial grounds, state television reported.

Dozens of Mubarak supporters, some from his home village Kafr al-Meselha in the Nile Delta, gathered outside the mosque, where the military funeral will take place.

“I am happy that his pride was restored” after his removal, “and for the state’s appreciation for him after his death,” said Zeenat Touhami, a 35-year old woman from Cairo. “This is the history of 30 years, the farewell of 30 years”.

Mohamed Zaree, a human rights activist, said the present era of autocracy and economic hardship was worse than Mubarak’s.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who came to power after leading the overthrow of Mubarak’s Islamist successor, Mohamed Mursi, has overseen a broad crackdown on dissent, which rights groups say is the most severe in recent memory.

“Mubarak’s era was painful (but) this era is much more difficult and painful in terms of freedoms and economic conditions,” Zaree said.

Many of the activists who helped organize mass protests which ousted Mubarak are now behind bars or live in exile abroad. Sisi’s supporters say a crackdown was needed to stabilize the country after the turmoil that followed 2011.

Mubarak was sentenced to life in prison for conspiring to murder 239 demonstrators during the 18-day revolt in 2011, but was freed in 2017 after being cleared of those charges.

He was also convicted in 2015 along with his two sons of diverting public funds to upgrade family properties. They were sentenced to three years in jail.

Egyptian state and private newspapers ran front page pictures of Mubarak, while state TV showed excerpts of previous speeches.

This was a stark contrast to the treatment of his successor, Mursi, Egypt’s first freely elected leader, who lasted only a year in office before the army toppled him. Mursi died last year after collapsing in court while on trial on espionage charges. Egyptian media, which are tightly controlled, paid little attention to his death.

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Politics

South Africa scales back public spending in budget presentation to parliament

All eyes will thus be on Finance Minister Tito Mboweni as he is expected to scale back public spending and find ways to raise revenue.

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South African Finance Minister, Tito Mboweni./AFP

South Africa’s finance minister, Tito Mboweni is expected to walk a tightrope during the annual budget presentation to parliament on Wednesday, as the economy teeters on the edge of a fiscal cliff.

The continent’s most industrialised economy has in recent years lurched from one economic woe to the next.

Weak growth, deteriorating public finances including a swollen budget deficit, crippling power cuts and soaring unemployment still cloud the outlook, an AFP report said.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has alluded to the crises, warning during a state of the nation address last week that government debt was “heading towards unsustainable levels”.

The “economy has not grown at any meaningful rate for over a decade”, said Ramaphosa, adding that desperately needed growth was being hampered by persistent power outages imposed by state-owned electricity firm Eskom.

Unemployment is creeping towards 30 percent, the highest level in more than a decade.

All eyes will thus be on Finance Minister Tito Mboweni as he is expected to scale back public spending and find ways to raise revenue.

Faced with a national debt equivalent to around 60 percent of gross domestic product and a budget deficit of around 5.9 percent of GDP, Mboweni has little room to manoeuvre.

“The government continues to find itself unable to flex the political muscle required to implement the sweeping reforms it has been promising,” noted Eurasia Group Africa director Darias Jonker.

Old Mutual Investment Group’s chief economist Johann Els emphasised that the treasury had been “unable to rein in the budget deficits” over the past few years. 

“It is really now or never,” he cautioned.

– ‘Slow growth, credit downgrades’ -Mboweni’s budget will also be under the scrutiny of international ratings agency Moody’s, the only major assessor that still considers South African debt to be investment grade.

Fitch and S&P downgraded its credit rating to junk status in 2017.

“We are on the verge of a Moody’s rating downgrade, and if we don’t stabilise the deficit and get spending under control, they will downgrade us,” Els said.

Losing its last investment grade rating could spark an exodus from South Africa’s bond markets and pile pressure on the rand.

The country’s lacklustre economic performance is largely a result of domestic issues.

Repeated bailouts to state-owned entities over the past decade — most notably to Eskom and flag-carrier South African Airways — have drained state coffers.

“The government desperately needs to move away from consumption expenditure and to infrastructure investment,” said Azar Jammine, chief economist at Econometrix, an independent consultancy firm.

In the past five years, South Africa has posted it weakest growth rates — never exceeding 1.3 percent and in certain years falling below one percent.

Treasury officials expect the economy to have expanded by around 0.5 percent in 2019.

The World Bank recently warned that South Africa was on a precipice, and cut its economic growth forecast to below one percent in 2020 as well due to electricity supply concerns.

“This paucity of growth also means there is no question of raising new revenue through new taxes,” said Geordin Hill-Lewis, the opposition Democratic Alliance’s shadow finance minister.

The minister must “present a credible plan to stabilise national debt, contain the budget deficit and prevent a fiscal crisis,” Hill-Lewis concluded.

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East Africa Politics News

Ethiopia frees 63 critics, opposition prisoners jailed over alleged coup

“The Ethiopian government hopes to widen the political and democratic space in the country with the freeing” of these individuals,” a government spokesman said.

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Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in an undated photo./AFP

Ethiopia is set to release 63 high-profile critics and prisoners from jail, including opposition activists held over an alleged coup and other high-ranking dissidents that had previously been incarcerated.

A spokesman for the attorney general’s office said on Tuesday that investigations had been dropped against 63 individuals and they would be released from custody later this week “for the national good”.

“The Ethiopian government hopes to widen the political and democratic space in the country with the freeing” of these individuals, spokesman, Zinabu Tunu was quoted in an AFP report.

Among those to be released are cadres of the National Movement of Amhara (NAMA), an ethno-nationalist opposition group blamed for attacks last year that the government described as a regional coup attempt.

Hundreds were arrested in the aftermath of the June violence in Ethiopia’s north that left five high-ranking officials dead and heaped pressure on a government struggling to cope with ethnic tensions.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who had been praised for loosening control in long-authoritarian Ethiopia, and was later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, was accused at the time of using the violence as a pretext to jail critics.

NAMA chairperson Belete Molla said their officials should never have been incarcerated in the first place, and welcomed the announcement of their release.

“We consider their imprisonment a politically-motivated act intended to weaken Amhara nationalism,” he told AFP.

Among others scheduled for release are activists from the Sidama ethnic group, which voted in November to form their own regional state after a long campaign for more autonomy.

Biniam Tewolde, a former deputy director of Ethiopia’s cyber intelligence agency INSA, who was jailed in 2018 for corruption, is also among those to be pardoned, his lawyer Haileselassie Gebremedhin told AFP.

Critics have accused Abiy of authoritarian tendencies, including locking up opponents, even as he embarked on sweeping reforms to foster a more open political and media environment.

Ethiopia is scheduled to hold elections in August and Abiy hopes to secure a mandate to pursue an ambitious agenda of political and economic reform.

But opposition parties and civil society organisations have questioned whether the elections will be peaceful and credible. 

Ethnic violence has persisted since Abiy was appointed in 2018 following several years of anti-government protests. 

Nearly 30 people were injured Sunday in an explosion at a pro-Abiy rally in Ambo, roughly 100 kilometres (60 miles) west of the capital, Addis Ababa.

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