Africa

Jacob Zuma's supporters sing to drown out corruption charges in South Africa

Fan of Jacob Zuma Image copyright EPA

Even though Jacob Zuma has resigned as president of South Africa and been charged with corruption, he still has loyal supporters. The BBC's Pumza Fihlani met them outside court.

The Zuma of old is still here - the crowd pleaser, the charmer and tactical politician. This is the Jacob Zuma who boldly addressed crowds outside the Durban High Court minutes after his brief appearance on 16 charges related to fraud and corruption.

Mr Zuma believes the re-instatement of the charges which were dropped back in 2009, after reports of political interference, are once again politically motivated.

A sure, perhaps even defiant, Mr Zuma told crowds that he is being targeted by political foes both within his own ruling African National Congress (ANC), and opposition parties who were against his attempts to bring economic empowerment to black people here.

Fringe groups such as the Black First Land First movement, now aligning with Mr Zuma, believe that under the new leadership, the ANC is pro-white capital. It argues Mr Zuma was unceremoniously removed from his position as party leader and president to protect white business interests.

It would seem Mr Zuma, in part, believes so too.

"I have never seen it before where someone is charged with a crime, those charges are dropped and then 13 years later those same charges are re-instated. This is a just a political conspiracy", he said in Zulu.

"Even those I trusted are treating me like a convicted criminal," he said, describing the case as one full of lies and conspiracy.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Mr Zuma was defiant outside court in Durban

The crowd, about 2,000 people, cheered as he spoke. It was a much larger gathering than the one which held an all-night vigil at a park for him a few 100 metres from the courthouse on Thursday night - but numbers aside, the support is certain.

"Zuma is always being targeted. People are always trying to tarnish his name. I will support him until a court proves that he is guilty. For me he is innocent until a court finds otherwise," Durban resident Thembi Sibiya told me.

And that is the sentiment of the supporters here who had composed songs in honour of the former statesman.

Obed Mbatha, who says he grew up with Mr Zuma and considers himself a friend, took the day off work to come and support Mr Zuma.

"I believe he is innocent more than the word innocent. Mr Zuma has done a lot of good for South Africa but that is being overshadowed by this case. He is being persecuted by his enemies - I have no doubt about it," the 76-year-old said.

Image caption Obed Mbatha took the day off work to support Mr Zuma in court

Mr Zuma might enjoy great support but he cast a lonely figure inside the courtroom earlier, where he sat as an accused in the dock alongside a representative of his co-accused, the French arms company Thales.

Dressed in a black suit, white shirt and red tie, he sat quietly with his eyes fixed ahead, as the lawyers dealt with the day's proceedings.

The appearance lasted just over 10 minutes. Judge Themba Sishi told Mr Zuma to come back to court on 8 June.

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From the country's president just two months ago to accused number one - a dramatic turn of events for the man who at times seemed untouchable.

He intends to challenge the legitimacy of the case - his lawyer will file for a legal review of the National Director of Public Prosecution (NDPP)'s decision to pursue the case.

Mr Zuma has always said he wants his day in court to clear his name.

Many thought this was just talk - especially after the appointment of current NDPP Shaun Abrahams, nicknamed here "Shaun the sheep". Some say he was catapulted to that position to make sure Mr Zuma's case never saw the light of day.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Mr Zuma often said he wanted his day in court. Here it is.

But there is a new man in charge: Cyril Ramaphosa. And now Mr Abrahams is leading the campaign to have Mr Zuma tried for the arms deal.

At the core is an allegation that Mr Zuma accepted a bribe to help Thales win a multi-million dollar government contract - allegations Mr Zuma denies.

Many say he has survived several controversies and criminal accusations until now because the ANC always came to his aid.

But this time around Mr Ramaphosa is keen to distance the party from Mr Zuma as it prepares for a hotly contested national election next year.

Mr Ramaphosa came in on a ticket of clean governance and entertaining yet another Zuma controversy could lose him the support he is currently enjoying.

But he will need to play this one carefully.

Mr Zuma's home province, KwaZulu-Natal, is the ANC's largest province in terms of membership - it cannot afford further rifts here.

That is something Mr Zuma's local supporters are threatening to leverage.

One sign of this was defiance of the request by the ANC for none of its members to wear ANC colours if they chose to come and support Mr Zuma.

But Durban city centre was a sea of black, green and gold, as well as T-shirts with a photograph of a smiling Mr Zuma.

One of the organisers told me: "Jacob Zuma is a member of the ANC, it can't be that we are told that we can't support him as the ANC. He is one of us - we will not desert him. They cannot tell us to dress to support him".

Image caption Mr Zuma's supporters defied the ANC's request and wore the party's colours outside court

Durban is Mr Zuma's town.

Back when apartheid government was losing its grip on power, infighting between the ANC and the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) threatened the so-called reconciliation process. It was Mr Zuma who the ANC deployed to quell violence in the province.

On the face of it Mr Zuma is unperturbed by the latest controversy - he is determined to use every legal avenue available to him to fight the corruption charges.

"I keep asking what has Zuma done and no-one has an answer for me", he told the crowds. Ending his address with a song and a dance, Mr Zuma fights on.

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