The stage has now been set in the arms deal case against former president Jacob Zuma and weapons manufacturer Thales, as the trial is expected to officially kick off on 17 May 2021.

The proceedings got underway in the High Court in Pietermaritzburg on Tuesday, February 23, 2021, where the legal parties finalised all pre-trial matters.

Judge Nkosinathi Chili certified the case as being trial ready after State Prosecutor, advocate Billy Downer said they had reached an agreement on the said date.

More than 200 witnesses lined up in Zuma’s arms deal trial

Former president Jacob Zuma is undoubtedly gearing up for the fight of his life as he would now have to defend himself against 217 witness which will be taking the stand in the trial. The first part of the arms deal trial will conclude on 20 June 2021.

Other dates in the trial will be determined at a later stage. The spokesperson for the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) in KwaZulu-Natal Natasha Kara said factors including the COVID-19 restrictions may impact on witnesses, as well as the representatives for Thales, which is the co-accused in the matter.

The trial is likely to drag for months as Zuma’s legal team would then be afforded an opportunity to rebut the evidence levelled by the state.

Zuma is alleged to have received 783 suspicious payments to the tune of R1.2 million from his former financial advisor Shabir Shaik. This is in relation to the multibillion rand arms deal in 1999. Zuma has denied the allegations and claims they are politically motivated.

Thales had sought to have the office of the National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP), to drop the racketeering charges against it, as it believes there is no evidence of such. However the same court dismissed the application with costs in January.

Zuma’s life, post-presidency, has been characterised by endless court appearances and legal battles – including in his personal life. The former president could soon find himself in jail after he defied an order by the Constitutional Court, compelling him to appear before the State Capture Commission. The commission has since asked the apex court to impose a two year jail term on Zuma.