Bishops in South Africa have heralded the decision to issue former President Jacob Zuma with a summons to court as evidence that the “wheels of justice are still turning” in the country.
During a 15-minute hearing early on Friday 6 April in Durban, prosecutors said the 75-year-old has been charged with 16 counts of corruption relating to a multibillion rand arms deal arranged when he was deputy president.
Archbishop William Slattery of Pretoria, spokesperson for the South African Catholic Bishops’ Conference, told America magazine: “Though it is very late in the day, it is very hopeful that the wheels of justice are still turning in South Africa.”
He continued: “The fact that the former state president will now have his day in court to answer before the nation for his decisions while in power will certainly send a well-needed clanging alarm call to many departments and offices of political administration.”
During Friday’s hearing the Durban High Court approved a request to adjourn the case until 8 June so both sides could prepare submissions. A potential trial would take several more months to prepare.
Mr Zuma, who was forced from office in February, denies any wrongdoing and is challenging the decision to prosecute the case.
In a rousing speech given from a podium outside the Durban court, the former President told his thousands of supporters that he was innocent and that his opponents were telling lies.
“I can’t believe all the lies that are said about me. I am innocent until proven guilty,” he added, speaking in Zulu.
He then led the crowd in a rendition of “Umshini wami,” a song made popular by the ANC’s armed wing during South Africa’s struggle against apartheid and which translates as “Bring my machine gun”.
Mr Zuma’s charges relate to 783 instances of alleged wrongdoing in the 30 billion rand (£1.8bn) deal with a French arms company during his time as deputy president.
The charges were set aside in 2009, paving the way for Mr Zuma to run for president, but were re-instated in 2016.
Allegations of corruption dogged Mr Zuma’s time in office, but he has consistently denied any wrong-doing.
South Africa’s chief prosecutor decided that Mr Zuma should be prosecuted last month.
Following his resignation as president of South Africa on 14 February, the country’s bishops said Mr Zuma’s presidency had fostered corruption and dereliction of duty at all levels of government.
“The fact that Mr Zuma has been allowed to hold on to the highest position in the land despite long-standing and overwhelming evidence of his unfitness for office has done immense harm to our country’s international reputation, to its economy and, especially, to its poorest and most vulnerable citizens,” the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference said in a statement.