This is part of a feature series on how nations in Africa address corruption, that will publish bimonthly until the end of the May.
Last Friday, a South African court ruled that President Jacob Zuma should face the corruption charges dropped in 2009 that total over 700 counts. He now risks further tainting his already scandalous reputation. The new case may even change the minds of South Africans that voted against Zuma’s impeachment earlier this month.
During his vice presidency, Zuma was first charged with corruption in 2005 for taking $287,000 in bribes from arms dealers. However, the National Director of Public Prosecutions, Mokotedi Mpshe, dropped the charges in 2009 after he received recordings that suggested the opposing party’s machinations behind the timing of the case. The same year, Zuma was elected president and commissioned an investigation into the arms deal, but suspiciously found no evidence to convict any officials.
Last month, South Africa’s highest court found that Zuma spent state funds on security upgrades in his private home, ruling that Zuma had “failed to uphold, defend and respect the constitution.” After Zuma fired South Africa’s renowned finance minister in December, Zuma’s party, the African National Congress (ANC), investigated allegations that the president’s cabinet candidates were influenced by the Guptas, a wealthy family that dominates most state-owned companies.
The court’s decision to reinstate the charges follows a seven-year legal struggle. Since 2009, the Democratic Alliance, the ANC’s opposition party, has been asking the court to reconsider the ruling to drop Zuma’s charges. The High Court Justice Aubrey Ledwaba agreed with the Democratic Alliance’s appeals saying, “The decision … to discontinue the charges against Mr Zuma is irrational.” The reinstatement of the charges currently depends on the National Prosecuting Authority.
The effort to impeach President Zuma this month failed to get enough votes in Parliament. However, the resurfacing of Zuma’s 2005 scandal is decreasing his popularity, and he is being pressured to resign from his position. Amid growing corruption allegations, the ANC struggles to maintain a clean reputation as local elections approach.
If the court’s judgement is reinstated, Zuma will have to answer charges in court, making it difficult for him to run the country. Zuma’s case would give the Democratic Alliance an opportunity to govern the country free from the influence of corruption that the ANC created during its years in power. Zuma’s indictment could stimulate action in surrounding nations also struggling with government corruption.