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Zuma’s graft trial postponed to September 9

The long-running corruption trial of South Africa’s former president Jacob Zuma over an arms deal dating back more than two decades was postponed on Tuesday to next month after he was hospitalised last week.

The 79-year-old was admitted to hospital for observation on Friday for an undisclosed condition, which prompted Tuesday’s hearing to be held virtually rather than in open court.

“The matter is postponed to 9th and 10th of September, 2021,” Judge Piet Koen declared, pending a medical report declaring Zuma’s fitness for trial.

The case has been carrying on for years and suffered a string of holdups.

Wim Trengove, a lawyer representing the state, last month acerbically referred to the postponements as “Stalingrad: Season 27,” apparently referring to an entrenched strategy of delay by the defence.

This week’s hearing was expected to involve a plea by the defence to remove a state prosecutor and thus have the charges against Zuma dropped.

Instead, Zuma remains in hospital at an undisclosed location. Details of his condition have not been made public.

Last month he began serving a 15-month jail sentence in a separate affair — for snubbing a commission probing state corruption under his 2009-2018 presidency.

Trengove said a letter from his doctors suggested he “required extensive emergency procedures which have been delayed for 18 months.”

The lawyer questioned the severity of Zuma’s condition.

“This is a crisis which has dragged on for 18 months and we find it very hard to understand how that suddenly transforms into an inability to stand trial,” he said.

However, Zuma’s representative Dali Mpofu said the delay in treatment was precisely the reason why his health was now declining.

“The fact that the problem existed for 18 months is exactly the reason why it is exacerbated now, especially since the incarceration,” he told the virtual court hearing on Tuesday.

Koen granted the state the option to appoint an independent doctor to assess Zuma in addition to his own physicians, who are due to give a more detailed report by August 20.

Zuma faces 16 charges of fraud, graft and racketeering linked to the 1999 purchase of fighter jets, patrol boats and equipment from five European arms firms when he was deputy president.

He is accused of taking bribes from one of the firms, French defence giant Thales, which has been charged with corruption. Both Zuma and Thales have pleaded not guilty.