Zuma defiant as he brands corruption charges 'a conspiracy'

Former South African president Jacob Zuma has appeared in the dock of a packed courtroom to face corruption charges in a long-running case that fuelled the public anger that forced him from power.

Zuma, 75, appeared relaxed during the brief hearing during which the case was adjourned until June 8.

He later emerged from the courthouse in the coastal city of Durban to address a large crowd of supporters, many sporting regalia of the ruling African National Congress party.

The charges are politically motivated, Zuma said.

The ruling party leadership had instructed him to resign in February after a leadership crisis that destabilised the ANC, which was already weakened by other scandals during his presidency.

At the hearing, Judge Themba Sishi said Zuma was free "on warning".

Zuma supporters gathered near the courthouse - in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal - to declare that the former leader is not guilty of fraud, racketeering and money laundering.

"Hands off Zuma," they chanted.

The corruption charges were recently reinstated after being thrown out nearly a decade ago. They relate to an arms deal in the 1990s, when Zuma was deputy president.

Zuma, who resigned on February 14, says he has done nothing wrong.

He was replaced as president by his deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, who has promised a robust campaign against corruption and also wants to rebuild a ruling party whose moral stature has diminished since it took power at the end of white minority rule in 1994.

Zuma could face several years in prison.

Outside the courthouse, he sang and swayed on a stage before a large group of supporters, telling them he was the victim of a political vendetta and that he has campaigned for the economic rights of South Africa's black majority since the end of apartheid in 1994.

The message resonates among many people who resent the fact that much of the economy remains in the hands of the white minority despite the advent of democracy.

Also in the dock was a representative of Thales, a French defence company accused of paying bribes to Zuma in the arms deal.

His financial adviser at the time, Schabir Shaik, was convicted of corruption in the case in 2005 and sentenced to 15 years in prison. He was released after two years on medical parole.

South African authorities also want to arrest members of the Gupta business family, which allegedly used its connections to Zuma to influence cabinet appointments and win state contracts.

South Africa's top court also ruled in 2016 that Zuma violated the constitution following an investigation of multimillion-pound upgrades to his private home using state funds.

- Press Association & Digital Desk

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