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Daily Archives: August 5, 2008

SAfrica’s Zuma in court for graft trial as protesters gather

by Fran Blandy*

South Africa's ruling party head Jacob Zuma, entered the dock yesterday for a long-awaited graft trial which could make or break his chances to become the country's next president.
Supporters of the 66-year-old African National Congress leader have vowed to shut down the sleepy city of Pietermaritzburg, where the trial of the immensely popular politician — a native of the region — is being held.
But the trial is likely to be further delayed with Zuma's lawyers expected to seek to have the case thrown out.
Zuma — widely seen as a champion of the poor and the underdog — entered the court through a back entrance yesterday morning, managing to avoid a scrum of photographers gathered outside.
This is the second time the state has attempted to prosecute Zuma for corruption after a judge struck the prosecutors' last bid off the roll in 2006, declaring their case against the populist leader was a disaster.
His supporters have labelled the charges a political vendetta against Zuma, who toppled South African President Thabo Mbeki as African National Congress leader in December. He was recharged only days after he was elected.
Hundreds had begun arriving outside the Pietermaritzburg High Court in eastern KwaZulu-Natal province yesterday morning, singing and dancing in front of a makeshift stage alongside a white tent pitched for ANC dignitaries.
Party officials said thousands were being bussed in.
Loud music eulogising Zuma blared from speakers as police with sniffer dogs and bomb squads swept the courthouse inside and out.
"We believe he is being persecuted more than prosecuted," ANC spokeswoman Jessie Duarte said.
"We are hoping this matter will be thrown out of court."
She told South African radio the protests would be conducted with "respect and dignity".
High-ranking ANC members, including 22 from the its national executive committee, were expected to show their support for Zuma, who they are backing as their candidate to become South Africa's third black president in elections next year.
"This is the man who is going to push South Africa to a prosperous South Africa and the people will have the privilege of getting work. The poor ones will be supported," said 72-year-old Abraham Motaung from the North-West province.
Zuma's lawyers will seek to declare the case unlawful, and if this is not successful will bring an application for a permanent stay of prosecution, arguing that repeated delays render a fair trial impossible.
The application is expected to take two days, before the trial is provisionally adjourned. Legal challenges to the case could even push it beyond next year's elections.
Zuma is facing a total of 16 charges ranging from money-laundering to racketeering, brought against him as a result of a seven-year investigation.
The main charge against him is that he allegedly received bribes for protecting French arms company Thint in an investigation into a controversial arms deal.
 Zuma had been accused of soliciting a bribe of 500,000 rand annually from the company, a subsidiary of Thales.
The ANC leader has previously said he would stand down if convicted but will not do so while the accusations are unproven.
He was sacked by Mbeki as deputy head of state in 2005 after his former financial adviser, Schabir Shaik, was handed a 15-year prison sentence for paying him bribes.
Zuma was dramatically cleared of rape in May 2006 after a trial in which he admitted sleeping with an HIV-positive family friend less than half his age, showering after sex in order to prevent infection.

*AFP

 

 

War on AIDS will be long, more funds needed, conference told

by Richard Ingham*

A global conference on AIDS was to get down to business yesterday after hearing that victory against the disease lay beyond the farthest horizon and endangered lives could only be saved with inflows of money.
Funding, access to treatment, beefing up prevention against the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and an array of social evils from stigma to violence against women are the headline issues at the six-day parlay.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, in Sunday's opening ceremonies, urged wealthy donor countries to live up to UN and G8 commitments to achieve universal access to lifeline anti-HIV drugs by 2010.
"As the fight against AIDS nears the end of its third decade, we are still facing a huge shortfall in resources," Ban warned.
"The responses to HIV and AIDS require long-term and sustained financing. As more people go on treatment and live longer, budgets will have to increase considerably over the next few decades. In the most affected countries, donors will have to provide the majority of the funding."
More than 25 million people have died from AIDS since the disease first emerged in 1981, and 33 million people today are living with HIV.
Ninety percent of those infected live in poor countries. In the past two years, there has been a major boost in help for these people, but even now, only three million individuals, or less than a third of those in need, have access to precious antiretroviral drugs.
Margaret Chan, director general of the UN's World Health Organisation (WHO), warned that the war on AIDS would be protracted.
"We dare not let down our guard. This is an unforgiving epidemic," she warned. "We are going to be in this for the long haul."
"The end of AIDS is nowhere in sight," said Peter Piot, executive director of the UN agency UNAIDS. "Every day, almost three times as many people become newly infected with HIV as those who start taking antiretroviral therapy."
The 17th International AIDS Conference is the first to take place in Latin America, a region with entrenched stigma against people with HIV.
More than 22,000 scientists, policymakers and field workers are attending, making it the second largest conference in the history of the disease, and the largest in a developing country.
Dancers in flowing white-and-red robes, a mariachi band and giant Mexican puppets provided a colourful touch to opening ceremonies, while a 12-year-old Honduran girl with HIV, Keren Dunaway-Gonzalez, was loudly cheered for an address touching on the curse of AIDS stigma.
"Many of us want to be doctors or teachers. I want to be a singer. But these dreams will only be possible when we have medicines, when we're accepted in schools, and when we can grow up in an atmosphere free from violence, stigma and discrimination," she said.
VIPs attending the biennial conference include Scottish rock singer Annie Lennox and former US president Bill Clinton.
According to UN agency UNAIDS, around 10 billion dollars was spent last year fighting AIDS in poor countries, a massive rise compared with the start of the decade but still more than eight billion dollars short of what was needed.
The conference theme, "Universal Action NOW," reflects an appeal to political leaders to maintain their effort, amid worries about a money crunch as the cost of treatment spirals as more people go on drugs.
Questions have been raised in books and medical journals as to whether AIDS should still be considered exceptional if antiretrovirals have turned HIV from a death sentence to a manageable disease.
Some have even suggested the funds spent on this disease might better allocated to combating malaria and other, less-visible killers.
Piot, who steps down as UNAIDS chief at year's end, argued forcefully against this.
"We must categorically reject any attempt to so-called 'normalise' AIDS, or treat this epidemic as just one of many medical problems," he said. "Now, more than ever, do we need an exceptional response… there's not 'too much money going to AIDS' but too little.'"

*AFP 
 

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