Mabuza Inc on Wednesday filed a formal notice to withdraw as Jacob Zuma’s lawyers in his upcoming corruption case at the Pietermaritzburg High Court. However, Eric Mabuza declined to state the reason for the withdrawal of the entire legal team which was meant to represent the former president in less than a month, which all but left everything to speculation.
The former president of the ANC and government is due to go on trial for arms-related corruption charges which are related to the millions of Rands he is purported to have received from his former financial advisor, Schabir Shaik, in exchange for furthering his business interests. He also stands accused of accepting a bribe of at least R500 000 a year in exchange for preventing any inquiry into the arms deal.
Responding to an inquiry from the media, National Prosecuting Authority’s Sipho Ngwema confirmed that they had received communication from Zuma’s lawyers but was quick to point out that the authority was ready to go ahead with the case. “Suffice to say, the state remains ready to proceed with the trial from May 17, 2021,” he said.
According to the executive secretary of the Council for the Advancement of the Constitution, Lawson Naidoo, the fact that this development comes hot on the heels of a recent ruling by the Constitutional Court that stated that Zuma was not eligible for state funding in his corruption case indicates that the issue could be lack of funds, adding that it did not come as a surprise that his lawyers had withdrawn. He added that his most logical step would be to make a fresh application for state funding even though the state would first have to ascertain that he was eligible for it. According to Naidoo, the developments were very opportune for Mr. Zuma, who could have grounds to delay the case further. “It is also rather fortuitous for Mr. Zuma that it comes at this time. Because it may provide him with grounds to seek a delay in the trial. He would have to convince a court that additional time is necessary and what a reasonable delay might constitute,” said Mr. Naidoo.
However, advocate Paul Jorgensen argued that this could be more sinister than appears on the surface. Speaking to the media, he said the most “innocent explanation could be the lack of funds.” He however stated that it was also possible that the reason for the rift was a conflict within the legal team and the client in the way they wished to go ahead with the case. “At its most suspect, it is an orchestrated move on the part of Zuma to place his attorneys in a position where they perceive they have to ethically withdraw. The benefit to Zuma is that his trial is delayed,” Jorgensen added.