5 questions about Zuma's prosecution answered

After the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) decided to drop corruption charges against former president Jacob Zuma in 2009, prosecutions boss Shaun Abrahams on Friday announced that these charges, brought in 2007, stand and the NPA will therefore proceed to prosecute Zuma.

This means the former president will soon be standing trial for 16 charges, including corruption, racketeering and money laundering.

Why now and why did it take so long to come to this decision? 

In 2009 the NPA decided not to go ahead with the prosecution because of the so-called "spy tapes". After years of efforts by the DA to have the charges reinstated, the North Gauteng High Court in in Pretoria found in 2016 that there was no reason for the NPA not to proceed with the prosecution and that it was obliged to make use of the "spy tapes".

Zuma and the NPA appealed this decision to the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA). The court dismissed the appeal in October last year. In other words, the SCA ruled that the original decision to charge Zuma should stand. 

This left it up to Abrahams to review the original charges and decide whether it will go ahead with the case, or refuse to review it and set aside the original decision to charge Zuma.

Abrahams announced on Friday that the NPA decided to go ahead with the prosecution because it believes there are reasonable prospects of a successful prosecution.

What are the 'spy tapes'?

The so-called "spy tapes" contain recorded conversations between former Scorpions boss Leonard McCarthy and former NPA boss Bulelani Ngcuka. According to the NPA, the conversations provided evidence at the time, of collusion against Zuma, between former NPA officials and former president Thabo Mbeki. Zuma's legal team admitted to the SCA last year that there was no reason for the "spy tapes" to not be allowed.

There's confusion about the number of charges against Zuma. How many charges will he face?

The original number of charges brought in the case against Zuma and French arms company Thales and its South African arm Thint, was 18. Of these, Zuma was charged with 16 counts, as accused number one.

The number 783 comes from the number of payments businessman Schabir Shaik, had made to Zuma. 

The best way to understand it, is to look at it from a perspective that all the charges stem from two big corruption charges.

The first corruption charge against Zuma, which Shaik was convicted of, related to the payments Shaik made to Zuma. At the time, he was a businessman in Natal and a financial adviser to Zuma, who was at some stage the MEC of Economic Affairs in KwaZulu-Natal and who later became deputy president.

The court found in the Shaik trial that he funded Zuma's lifestyle because he could no longer keep up paying for his family's expenses and needed extra cash. Shaik paid him and in exchange, Zuma promoted his company for government work.

There was evidence led in the Shaik trial that showed how Zuma intervened as MEC, writing letters to businessmen to invest in KZN and promoting Shaik as their BEE partner.

The second corruption charge related to a R500 000 bribe that was paid to Zuma from the French arms company Thales, for the arms deal. Shaik's company Nkobi was included in the arms deal as BEE partner, to provide something called combat suites to the frigates, which is basically all the technology on the ships. As part of this agreement, Zuma actually flew to Paris to meet with the bosses of Thales and again tried to convince them to take Shaik as their partner.

In the Shaik trial, the court accepted that it was a bribery agreement and a "French fax" was the so-called smoking gun which proved Zuma accepted the bribe of R500 000 and agreed to protect and promote Thales in South Africa.

So those were the two pillars on which Shaik was convicted. What the NPA did in their last indictment against Zuma, was to say that this arrangement between the two constituted a racket and they also charged him with racketeering. There were also a number of fraud charges specifically relating to tax evasion by Zuma.

Where will Zuma stand trial and how long will it take for the trial to start?

Abrahams said on Friday that the director of public prosecutions in KwaZulu-Natal will facilitate the prosecution. This means Zuma will likely be tried in the High Court in Pietermaritzburg or Durban.

The state's investigation has been completed. The only decision that needed to be made was whether the "spy tapes" could be used or not. Now that that has been cleared up, there's really no reason it should take a lot of time if all the evidence is available.

The integrity of the NPA has been deeply compromised over the years. Does this decision restore the integrity of Abrahams and the NPA?

Abrahams's reputation is in tatters, mainly for prosecuting Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan in 2016 on trumped-up charges. The North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria also declared that Abrahams's appointment was invalid, since the appointment and exit of his predecessor Mxolisi Nxasana, was illegal.

He is now awaiting a Constitutional Court ruling on whether he should be allowed to stay in his position. Even if the court rules in his favour, President Cyril Ramaphosa can still fire him, pending an inquiry into his fitness to hold office on the grounds of misconduct, incapacity to carry out his duties efficiently, or that he is no longer a "fit and proper person". 

While Abrahams may hope that the decision to prosecute Zuma will redeem him, analysts say the only way for the NPA to restore its integrity is to appoint a new, independent NDPP.