- Lawyers for former president Jacob Zuma were due to argue his application for acquittal on corruption charges through a "special plea" on Monday.
- Zuma insists he should be acquitted of corruption because the NPA is too biased to prosecute him.
- Zuma' lawyers, who have applied to lead oral evidence during that hearing, have now applied for a postponement of the case – largely because it is being heard virtually.
- The NPA is opposing Zuma's postponement application.
Former president Jacob Zuma's lawyers have revealed that he wants to testify about why he should be acquitted of corruption without standing trial – as part of a last-minute application for his trial to be postponed.
Zuma's attorney, Bethuel Thusini, filed an application for the postponement of Zuma's trial on Saturday afternoon. This came after Pietermaritzburg High Court Judge Piet Koen issued directives that Zuma's application for a "special plea" – made under section 106 (1) (h) of the Criminal Procedure Act – should be argued virtually.
He has told the High Court that Zuma is invoking his fair trial rights under the Constitution as he "cannot, in the present circumstances, be compelled to have his trial conducted on a virtual platform and/or in his absence".
Judge Koen had emailed all the legal representatives involved in the case on Tuesday, 13 July to explore the possibility of a virtual hearing, given that South Africa remained under a Level 4 Covid-19 lockdown, which placed restrictions on unnecessary travel and large gatherings.
After pointing out that almost all of the advocates involved in the case were from Gauteng and that past hearings at the High Court "have also always attracted many attendees, both inside and outside the court", Koen said, he was considering a virtual hearing "as it will involve only legal argument".
"I am very mindful that although there will only be argument, that this remains a criminal trial, which ordinarily requires the attendance of the accused," Koen said. He added that he had asked correctional services whether it had facilities at the Estcourt prison, where Zuma was being held, that would allow him to follow the proceedings virtually.
Thusini now says he is applying for a trial postponement so that Zuma "could be able to attend and be present in court when the matter is heard and most importantly. he want (sic) to give evidence in relation to the matter to be tried under the plea raised in terms of section 106 (1) (h)".
According to Thusini, Zuma was seeking the postponement after his counsel, advocate Dali Mpofu SC, had called the National Prosecuting Authority's (NPA) advocate Wim Trengove "proposing that the parties reach an agreement to give everyone the opportunities for idea conditions of conducting this sensitive trial".
"The NPA refused to agree to a postponement requiring us to file a formal application for a postponement which the NPA would oppose," he said.
Zuma insists he should be acquitted on the basis of his so-called "special plea" that the entire NPA is unable to prosecute him for alleged arms deal corruption because of its alleged bias and lack of independence. He has previously threatened that, should the High Court "not do the right thing" in response to his claims of fair trial abuses, he may not cooperate with his criminal trial.
The NPA, however, maintains that Zuma's complaints of abuse and political conspiracy against the State have largely been dealt with by the courts – most recently, when a full Bench of the High Court dismissed his application for a permanent stay of prosecution in 2019.