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S. African judge holds open door to appeal in Zuma graft case

A lone demonstrator stood outside the court as a judge said there may room for appeal in the case against the ANC leader. A lone demonstrator stood outside the court as a judge said there may room for appeal in the case against the ANC leader. (John Robinson/ AP)
Reuters / October 23, 2008
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DURBAN, South Africa - A South African judge who threw out corruption charges against ANC leader Jacob Zuma allowed prosecutors to appeal yesterday, dashing ruling party hopes that the case against the presidential hopeful was closed.

Judge Chris Nicholson last month dismissed bribery, fraud, and other charges against Zuma, citing high-level "political meddling" in the case, but said yesterday the legal complexities meant there were grounds for appeal.

"I have no difficulty in granting leave on the basis that I believe there are reasonable prospects of success on appeal," Nicholson told the Durban High Court.

Nicholson's dismissal of the charges against Zuma had appeared to clear the way for him to become president after an election next year.

While reopening the case could give ammunition to a new breakaway party that argues the African National Congress' handling of the graft case undermines the rule of law, it is unlikely to derail Zuma's political ambitions. A verdict would take months.

"There is no way that this case will stop Zuma from becoming president," Aubrey Matshiqi, senior associate at the Centre for Policy Studies, said. "It's too early to tell whether the breakaway party's argument about the rule of law will fly with the majority of voters, but my feeling is it will not."

Zuma has said he will step down as ANC leader only if a court proves he is guilty. He has denied the charges, which he says are politically motivated.

Zuma loyalists have argued he was the victim of a political witch hunt by former president Thabo Mbeki, and a fight between the two men has deeply divided the ANC, the dominant force in South African politics since the end of white rule in 1994.

"We believe that our president [Zuma] has been a subject of a vindictive prosecution," the ANC said in a statement yesterday. "We want to reaffirm the ANC's unwavering support for Comrade Zuma as the face of the organization in the run-up to the 2009 elections and future president of the country."

Nicholson's Sept. 12 ruling sparked the biggest political upheaval in South Africa since the end of apartheid.

Shortly afterwards, the ANC forced Mbeki's resignation and a group of dissidents loyal to the former president announced they would form a breakaway party.

Investors are worried that if Zuma wins next year's vote he may bow to pressure from his leftist allies to steer Africa's biggest economy away from the pro-business policies championed by Mbeki's administration.

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