Flash Briefing: Zuma FINALLY answers corruption charges in court; SA taxpayers to spend more on foreign spies

Listen on iTunes 

  • Former South African President Jacob Zuma appeared in court to face corruption, money laundering and racketeering charges, and pleaded not guilty on all counts, reports Bloomberg. Zuma’s lawyer Dali Mpofu spent part of the first day of the trial arguing that state prosecutor Billy Downer should be replaced on the grounds that he wasn’t independent and impartial because he’d supported an opposition party’s bid to ensure his client faced charges. Zuma, 79, was fired as deputy president in 2005 after his financial adviser was found guilty of soliciting bribes for him from arms dealers in the 1990s. Zuma led South Africa for almost nine scandal-marred years before the ruling party forced him to step down in 2018 to stem a loss of electoral support. The ex-president has been separately prosecuted for defying a court order to testify before a judicial panel that’s investigating graft. A Constitutional Court ruling is pending on whether he should be jailed.
  • The number of confirmed Covid-19 infections has risen 17% in South Africa over the past week, says Bloomberg. The country reported a rate of 35.4 new cases per 100,000 people over the seven days to May 25, the department said in a statement. Of tests administered, 11% were positive, an increase from a level a week earlier that wasn’t disclosed. The hospitalisation rate rose 11.9% over the week, while the death rate climbed by 29.3%, the department said. Just over 3,000 new infections were reported in the 24 hours until Tuesday. South Africa has the highest number of confirmed Covid-19 cases and deaths in Africa, with more than 1.64 million people infected and almost 56,000 dead. The country, which has a population of about 60 million, has vaccinated 700,000 people.
  • South African taxpayers are footing the bill for the country’s spy agency to beef up its economic intelligence unit so it can play a ‘proactive role’ in supporting the nation’s companies as they expand beyond their home base. State Security Minister Ayanda Dlodlo says firms that could benefit from the intelligence operatives’ expertise include telecommunications giant MTN and Sasol, the world’s largest producer of motor fuel from coal. MTN operates in 21 markets, while Sasol’s business spans 30 countries. Many nations’ intelligence agencies “support big conglomerates that have invested in other countries. That is what we need to be doing,” she said in a May 18 interview. Sasol issued a statement saying that it appreciates the company “is rightly considered a critical and strategic contributor to the South African economy”. MTN did not reply to questions.
  • South Africa’s Health Minister Zweli Mkhize, at the centre of a corruption scandal, is facing calls for his resignation – including from the opposition DA. A forensic investigation and a probe by the Special Investigating Unit are underway into a contract worth R150m, report media outlets. Mkhize said the public outrage and anger over the Digital Vibes contract was justified but he will not be stepping aside. He denies personally benefiting from the contract.