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South Africa Opposition Shows Concern that Charges May be Dropped against Zuma

The opposition Congress of the People (COPE) is expressing concern about a possibility that South Africa's National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) might drop graft charges against the leader of the ruling African National Congress party (ANC) today (Monday). The prosecutors are expected to announce whether or not they will drop charges against ANC president Jacob Zuma ahead of the April 22 general election. Zuma supporters maintain the corruption charges against him are politically motivated to prevent him from being elected South Africa's next president. The ANC is widely expected to win the election despite a stiff challenge anticipated from opposition parties.

COPE spokesman Philip Dexter tells reporter Peter Clottey that the ANC keeps demonstrating that it has no regard for the country's constitution.

"We are very concerned because we would like to see the rule of law upheld. Now, if the decision is to drop the charges as the rumors suggest would be, then certainly, we would want to know the reason for that and we would want to see the evidence that the NPA has applied its mind, because it does seem on the face of it there is some manipulation of this case," Dexter pointed out.

He said the ANC leader's defense team should take its fair share of the blame for delaying the graft case against him, which has been going on for at least seven years.

"Firstly, the reasons for the delay are not entirely to do with the state, and Jacob Zuma's lawyers have themselves been the cause of many of the delays. So to say justice delayed is justice denied is not applicable if the cause of the delay is the accused. You know, if the state were to be the cause of the delay, then there is the relevance. But I think what is important is that we cannot allow a situation where a single individual because of their political position is treated differently from other citizens. And on the face of it, that is what we have here," he said.

Dexter said COPE maintains that the ANC leader is being specially treated by the National Prosecuting Authority in the graft charges against him.

"Certainly, I mean there are criminal cases going on everyday in South Africa. You don't have a situation where people are allowed to delay the case and treat the courts. They are political opponents and have access to the National Prosecuting Authority so that you can cut a private deal with them. Certainly, this is not an ordinary situation," Dexter pointed out.

He said the opposition COPE would ensure South Africans are told the truth if the NPA decides to drop the charges today against Jacob Zuma.

"A number of things, and firstly, we are going to obviously take legal advice to see what avenues are open for us to ensure that none of this is done behind closed doors and that all the information that is made available to the public. Secondly, we will be going to our members to ask them what they think are the next steps. Thirdly, we will be appealing to the public suggesting that this is exactly why people should vote for COPE in the coming election because if they vote for an organization that does not respect the rule of law, that undermines the constitution of our country, then things would be very bleak for our country," he said.

Dexter sharply denied that dropping the charges against Zuma would significantly improve the chances of the ANC in the upcoming general election.

"I don't know why you would make that assumption, but I think probably the opposition is true. So when we take a decision such as that dropping the charges, I think that the South African public will see this for what it is and would not vote for the ANC," Dexter noted.

He said there are reasons to believe that news about possible NPA plans to drop charges against Zuma were planted in the media by ANC agents to test the reaction from the general public.

"When the story broke that the charges would be dropped, there was a significant reaction from the South African public, from the media, and so on, and other political parties. But I'm not sure how it would benefit anybody to test the waters so to speak in that way," he said.

The prosecutors are due to announce the fate of Zuma Monday after postponing the announcement last week. Zuma, however, is expected to become state president after South Africa's April 22 general election due to the overwhelming support his ruling ANC enjoys among South Africans.

Some political analysts say a decision to drop the charges would enhance the chances of the ANC to maintain its two-thirds majority in South Africa's parliament. A move to drop the charges would also end a long legal battle that had raised doubts over Zuma's ability to govern, since a sitting president does not have immunity from prosecution. Zuma and his supporters maintain the charges against him are politically motivated, saying he is the victim of a political conspiracy.

NPA charged Zuma with corruption, fraud, money laundering, and racketeering on December 28, 2007 at the Polokwane conference, eight days after he won the ANC leadership by defeating then-President Thabo Mbeki. A high court judge, however, dismissed the corruption charges, citing political interference. But the decision was overturned by an appeals court in January.