Charges dropped or not, Zuma’s image is still tarnished

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South Africa president in waiting Jcob Zuma is a free man. Prosecutors dropped all corruption charges against him ending a long legal battle that had raised doubts over his ability to govern.

Chief prosecutor Mokotedi Mpshe told the media that the former head of the country’s elite anti-crime unit had manipulated the legal system and said “abuses of process” uncovered in taped conversations were behind the decision to drop the charges.

The case is now closed and no further charges would be brought against Zuma, he said.

The decision to drop the charges is a massive boost for ANC ahead of parliamentary and local elections on April 22 — expected to be the most closely contested poll since apartheid ended in 1994.

The ANC, which has dominated South African politics since then, is expected to win the election, but faces its toughest competition yet from a breakaway party that hopes to lure voters uneasy with corruption scandals in the ANC.

A recent poll by Ipsos Markinor has revealed that the ANC will score 64.7 per cent, with the official opposition Democratic Alliance getting 10.8 per cent and the Cope, which is forecast to score only 8.9 per cent. The ANC won nearly 70 per cent at the last general election five years ago.

The court case was a hurdle that was unlikely to have stopped Zuma becoming president, but may have complicated his presidency and been a major distraction in office.

South Africans say having a president facing possible jail would have tarnished their image abroad and hurt perceptions of Zuma himself, internationally and at home.

But according to critics, the fact that charges have been dropped does not mean he will be regarded as fully innocent. “Innocent or not, having a president who has been dragged through the courts under charges of corruption and even if all charges have been dropped — to the utter amazement of many — it is still not enough to redeem Mr. Zuma’s image” says’s Patrick Johnsson.

After he was charged with soliciting bribes on Mr Zuma’s behalf, Chabir Shaik, Mr. Zuma’s former financial advisor, was sent to prison some four yeas ago. Thabo Mbeki, who was then President of South Africa, then fired Mr. Zuma, who made an astonishing comeback forcing Mr. Mbeki to leave the presidency a few months before his term expired. A week before his resignation, Chris Nicholson, a judge, quashed the charges against Mr. Zuma and found that Mr Mbeki’s government had meddled in the prosecution.

But the ANC head suffered a reverse in January when a higher court threw out the earlier judgment, allowing prosecutors to reinstate the charges. According to the FT, the legal saga has been such a roller-coaster that even Monday’s expected decision in Mr Zuma’s favour is unlikely to bring it to a conclusive end.

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