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Last Updated: Monday, 8 May 2006, 12:09 GMT 13:09 UK
South Africa awaits Zuma verdict
Anti-rape protesters (Pic: Jonathan Biles)
Anti-rape protesters wore cloths to protest at defence arguments that such dress was "provocative"
The judge in the rape trial of South Africa's former Deputy President Jacob Zuma has begun delivering his verdict.

Mr Zuma denies raping a 31-year-old family friend, who is HIV positive, at his home last November.

Because of public interest in the case, Judge Willem van der Merwe's ruling is going out live on television and radio and is set to take several hours.

The trial of this once hugely popular politician - who was tipped as the next president - has divided South Africans.

Sexual history

Judge van der Merwe began by speaking in Zulu, Mr Zuma's native language in which he had delivered his testimony, saying that the judgement would take some time to deliver.

Switching to English, the judge warned: "Whatever the judgement may be, the outcome will not satisfy everyone."

Judge Willem van der Merwe
The judgement is being broadcast live on national television
He expressed regret that "some pressure groups and individuals found the accused guilty and some found him not guilty" while the trial was under way.

Judge van der Merwe took more than four hours to review the testimony that has been aired in court since the trial began, including the accounts of the complainant and of Mr Zuma.

Before adjourning the court for lunch, he explained it had been "necessary to highlight certain material facts" following selective media reporting of the case.

Earlier, Judge van der Merwe explained in detail his controversial decision to admit questions about the complainant's sexual history, arguing that such questioning was "fundamental" to the particular case.

"It was aimed at showing misconduct in the sense of having falsely accused other men in the past," the judge said.

"It was not aimed at showing the complainant was a woman of questionable morals."

A significant police presence, along with rolls of razor wire and police trucks, had moved in to cordon off the court house overnight, as Zuma supporters held a vigil nearby.

A crowd of several hundred supporters was present as proceedings began, but had grown to more than 1,000 by middday.

Women demonstrating against rape outside the court wore wrap-around cloths, in protest at the defence's argument that the complainant had provoked the sexual encounter by wearing such a cloth while a guest at Mr Zuma's house.

Big welcome

On Sunday, thousands of Mr Zuma s supporters attended a fund-raising rally in the Johannesburg suburb of Soweto.

Zuma supporter during a protest outside the High Court in Johannesburg on 2 May 2005
Support at the grassroots has been strong for Zuma the politician
Mr Zuma, 64, was given a big welcome by the crowd when he arrived.

He told the crowd: "As you all know I am on trial and I am not allowed to comment on my case." But he said the turnout, "gives me the strength to go on".

Mr Zuma says he and the complainant had sex in his bedroom, and that she initiated the intercourse.

She claims Mr Zuma raped her in the guest room where she was spending the night.

Damaged reputation

What is not in dispute is that the former deputy president had unprotected sex with a woman he knew to be HIV positive.

While deputy president, Mr Zuma was also head of South Africa's National Aids Council and the Moral Regeneration Movement.

His views on HIV prevention, which were aired in court, have shocked Aids activists, the BBC's Peter Biles says.

Mr Zuma said he had had a shower after sex and believed that a healthy man was unlikely to catch HIV from a woman.

Activists say his "irresponsible" approach has set back the fight against HIV and Aids by many years, in a country where more than five million people are HIV positive.

Mr Zuma was imprisoned on Robben Island in the apartheid years and later headed the military wing of the African National Congress from exile.

But whatever the outcome of this trial, few people believe Mr Zuma can now repair his damaged reputation to mount a serious challenge for the leadership of South Africa.

In July, he faces another trial on the corruption charges that led to his dismissal as deputy president last year. He denies the charges.

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