Page last updated at 12:30 GMT, Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Zuma to face court after SA polls

Jacob Zuma addresses supporters in East London, South Africa, 10 January 2009
Jacob Zuma has been in and out of court for the last few years

A high court in South Africa has postponed the corruption trial hearing for ruling African National Congress leader Jacob Zuma until 25 August.

Outside the Pietermaritzburg court, Mr Zuma told thousands of supporters if he quit it would be like admitting guilt.

The ANC leader is favourite to become president after general elections expected between March and July.

Correspondents say it means he may emerge from the polls with a criminal prosecution hanging over his head.

But if he wins a separate challenge to the case in South Africa's highest court - the charges will be dropped.

'Dark cloud'

Outside the court on Wednesday, Mr Zuma told supporters: "If I step aside, a bad precedent will be created. People will know that if you hate somebody, you just throw a dark cloud and it is the end of the story," the SAPA news agency reported.

June 2005: Sacked as deputy president
October 2005: Charged with corruption
December 2005: Charged with rape
April 2006: Acquitted of rape charges
September 2006: Corruption case collapses
December 2007: Elected ANC president; re-charged with corruption shortly afterwards
September 2008: Judge rules corruption case cannot proceed
January 2009: Prosecutors win appeal, opening the way for Zuma to be recharged
2009: Elections due

"I am not going to step aside simply because I have not been found guilty by any court of law. I respect the constitution and I understand it."

Last year, Mr Zuma won a reprieve on the case on a technicality from a lower court, but the Supreme Court overturned that ruling in January.

His lawyers are now applying to the Constitutional Court seeking permission to challenge that ruling allowing state prosecutors to reinstate charges.

Mr Zuma and the ANC - which has given him its unequivocal support - are also trying to secure a permanent stay of prosecution.

The BBC's Peter Biles in Johannesburg says that argument will be heard in court in August as well, by which stage it will have been more than four years since he was first charged by the state.

The ANC insists that Mr Zuma's right to a fair trial has been severely infringed.

The party says it is not in the public interest for the prosecution of Mr Zuma to proceed.

Mr Zuma denies the 16 charges of corruption, money-laundering and racketeering which stem from a controversial $5bn (3.4bn) arms deal in 1999.

He has remained popular despite the shadow of corruption has been hanging over him for several years.

In 2005, Mr Zuma was sacked as South Africa's deputy president when his financial adviser, Schabir Shaik, was found guilty of soliciting a bribe on behalf of Mr Zuma and jailed for 15 years in connection with the arms deal.

Mr Zuma then went on trial, but that case collapsed in 2006 when the prosecution said it was not ready to proceed.

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