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S.Africa’s Zuma absent from graft hearing, medical status under scrutiny

South Africa’s Jacob Zuma, recently granted medical parole, on Tuesday failed to appear in court for the resumption of a graft trial, as prosecutors argued ill health did not justify his absence.

Two weeks ago, Zuma, 79, was released on medical parole two months into a 15-month prison sentence for refusing to answer questions in a separate corruption probe into his 2009-18 presidency.

He was due in court on Tuesday for the resumption of the trial involving an arms purchase in 1999, when he was deputy president.

But the ex-leader was nowhere to be seen when proceedings kicked off at the Pietermaritzburg High Court in the southeastern KwaZulu-Natal province, stoking ire among fed-up prosecutors.

“Attendance in court is not optional,” said state advocate Wim Trengove, contesting an instruction from Zuma to “carry on with his case without him”.

Details of Zuma’s medical condition have been kept confidential. He was hospitalised from jail in early August and underwent surgery later that month.

Tuesday’s hearings resumed after a 10-day delay to allow state-appointed doctors to assess evidence of Zuma’s condition alongside his own medical team.

Trengove noted a “difference of opinion” between doctors, with state medics finding Zuma “fit to stand trial”.

He asked Judge Piet Koen to request the confidential documents and assess their findings in order to rule on the next course of action.

“They are going to be handed in and I’m going to lock them away,” Koen replied.

Zuma’s lawyer Dali Mpofu argued for confidentiality and privacy, accusing the prosecution of being “vultures… hovering” over the ailing Zuma by seeking to have their doctors physically examine him.

Zuma faces 16 counts of fraud, graft and racketeering related to the purchase of fighter jets, patrol boats and equipment from five European arms firms.

He is accused of taking bribes from one of the firms, French defence giant Thales, which has also been charged with corruption and money laundering.

Both have denied wrongdoing.

The trial started in May after numerous postponements as Zuma’s legal team battled to have the charges dropped.

They have also unsuccessfully asked the Constitutional Court to rescind his prison sentence.

On Monday evening, Zuma slammed South Africa’s “constitutional dictatorship” and vowed to fight “injustice”.

The hearing continues on Wednesday.