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New ANC leader Zuma faces prosecution threat

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by Mariette le Roux*

 

Jacob Zuma, the new leader of South Africa's ruling ANC, faced being charged with corruption yesterday as his defeated rival Thabo Mbeki quashed speculation he would quit as president.

Less than two days after Zuma's victory in the ANC leadership contest over Mbeki, the head of the national prosecuting authority said enough evidence had been gathered to charge him at the end of a marathon corruption investigation.

Any eventual conviction would rob Zuma of the opportunity of succeeding Mbeki as head of state of state in 2009, a post that one of the president's closest advisors said he had no intention of relinquishing early.

"The investigation is complete. All that we are doing now is to tie the loose ends," the acting director of public prosecutions Mokotedi Mpshe told private 702 Talk Radio.

"The investigation, with the evidence we have now, points to a case that can be taken to court," he added.

Asked whether charges would be filed soon, Mpshe replied: "Yes, that's my impression."

Zuma's financial advisor Schabir Shaik is serving a 15-year prison sentence after he was found guilty of soliciting bribes on behalf of the new ANC leader.

Initial corruption charges against Zuma were dropped in September last year when a judge threw them out of court after it emerged the state did not have enough evidence to charge Zuma, but they continued their investigation.

The prospects of Zuma being brought to court climbed sharply last month when he lost a bid to have a series of search warrants declared illegal.

Zuma's supporters have portrayed the investigation, which is centred around a 1999 arms deal, as part of a conspiracy mounted against him by the elite Scorpions police unit which was set up by Mbeki.

He has however promised to resign if he is convicted.

With Zuma supporters now holding the balance of power within the ANC, the party voted on Wednesday night for the disbandment of the unit although such a decision has to be taken by parliament.

The fresh row over the corruption inquiry is likely to take the shine off Zuma's victory address in the northern city of Polokwane, which will mark the close of an often acrimonious conference which began on Sunday.

Zuma, strongly backed by leftist groups, is likely to address concerns about a possible shift in policy and try and mend the splits within the party that has governed South Africa since the end of apartheid in 1994.

Following Zuma's victory, commentators are predicting turbulent times ahead for South Africa with two centres of power: the government headquarters in the capital Pretoria and the ANC's offices in Johannesburg.

A top advisor to Mbeki, making clear he was speaking on his behalf, rejected any idea the president may stand down in order to avoid a power battle.

"He is not considering resigning. I have this on authority," Joel Netshitenzhe, head of the presidential policy unit, told reporters.

A report in The Star newspaper had said Mbeki was thinking of quitting early and a meeting of his allies would take place soon after Christmas to decide their next step.

The extent of the power shift was expected to be confirmed with the final results for membership of the party's 86-strong national executive committee. Two senior Mbeki allies, Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka and Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, are among those seen as vulnerable.

Netshitenzhe however did not expect a major change of policy despite the change of the guard.

"There will be tweaking here and there, there will be new emphasis in some areas, there would be self-criticism in others … like the legacy of poverty that still has to be dealt with."

"This might require better implementation of our policy, maybe some slight changing here and there, but there will be no fundamental overhaul for what the ANC stands for."

 

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