DURBAN, April 5 – eThekwini’s metro police have advised motorists to steer clear of the Durban High Court area on Friday, as former president Jacob Zuma is expected to appear on fraud and corruption charges relating to the controversial 1999 arms deal.
Parboo Sewpersad, a senior superintendent with eThekwini’s Metro Police, told African News Agency (ANA) on Wednesday afternoon that several roads would be closed off from 6am on Friday morning. About 5000 marchers were expected to make their way from Dinizulu Park to the High Court.
The metro police and South African Police Services would be monitoring activities from a joint operations centre, according to Sewpersad.
Permits had also been issued for 2000 people to attend a night vigil on Thursday from 6pm onwards, he said. Those taking part in the vigil would gather at Albert Park and were expected to stay there throughout the night.
At a press briefing on Wednesday, Bishop Bheki Ngcobo of the National Interfaith Council of South Africa (NICSA) said that the “mother-of-all prayer meetings” would take place outside the court on Friday before proceedings started.
Representatives from NICSA, along with the Commission for Religious Affairs (CRA), Andile Mngxitama of Black First Land First and controversial “business forum” Delangokubona all attended the briefing and are all expected to march in support of the former president, along with supporters who will be bussed in from around the country.
Ngcobo said he had received information that there were “elements” that were mobilising to cause chaos at the activities on Thursday and Friday, and that this was aimed at portraying supporters of Zuma as “anarchists”.
“It is for these reasons that we are working with law enforcement agencies to ensure that these activities are peaceful,” he said.
“It is a matter of concern that for all these years Zuma has been subjected to what appears to be a well calculated campaign to isolate him. Could it be that Zuma is targeted because he has always been on the side of the poor?” he asked.
Ngcobo said it was possible that Zuma was being “targeted” because he fought for access to land and to ensure South Africa’s inclusion in the economic block of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa).
He said it was not surprising that Zuma had already been found guilty “through the court of public opinion”. The presumption of innocence was a fundamental right in the constitution and the functioning of the judicial system, he said.
The maturity Zuma had displayed when he tendered his resignation and throughout the transition period was an affirmation of his selflessness and his love for the African National Congress (ANC), said the bishop.
The arms deal, originally known as the Strategic Defence Package, which cost the tax-payer upwards of R30-billion, was for the purchase of air, sea and land defence systems.
The deal has largely been criticised as corrupt and has seen several high-ranking people prosecuted, most famously Zuma’s financial advisor Shabir Shaik.
However, the Sereti Commission of Inquiry into the deal, set up by Zuma while he was still president, released a report in April 2016 which found “the evidence presented before it does not suggest that undue or improper influence played any role in the selection of the preferred bidders”. The report was considered a whitewash by its critics.