South Africa prosecutors to drop Zuma charges, Mbeki's reputation in tatters

JOHANNESBURG – Jacob Zuma is off the hook and is now set for a smooth run at the presidency. The dramatic turnabout is a result of secret evidence said to point to blatant executive and outside interference in the work of the National Prosecuting Authority.

This "Mbekigate" evidence is said to be so explosive it would be neither wise nor viable to prosecute the ANC leader, who has long argued he is the victim of political conspiracy.

The evidence in the possession of Zuma’s legal team means acting prosecutions boss Mokotedi Mpshe is expected to bite the bullet and drop the charges against Zuma within days, a decision which will be processed by KwaZulu-Natal Judge President Vuka Tshabalala.

Those close to the NPA are "very positive" Mpshe will make a decision after consulting his lieutenants on Monday.

The political fallout from the Mbekigate scandal for several former top politicians and key state officials is likely to be immense. These include former president Thabo Mbeki, his confidantes in the presidency, former NPA boss Bulelani Ngcuka and former Scorpions boss Leonard McCarthy.

Those close to the process, who asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter, say the NPA is expected to approach Tshabalala as early as tomorrow to formally seal a decision to drop charges.

Mpshe – who under the law has the prerogative to decide whether to drop charges or proceed with a prosecution – has weathered external and internal pressure since news first broke a fortnight ago that the state’s case was seriously compromised.

After tomorrow’s meeting with his top officials – who themselves are divided on the complex issue – Mpshe is likely to announce the state will drop charges of corruption, fraud, racketeering and tax evasion, as feverishly speculated in the media over the past fortnight.

The view is understood to be shared by his deputy national director of public prosecutions Willie Hofmeyr, who has been the key NPA official liaising with Zuma’s legal team and who, along with a colleague, listened to sensational recordings in the defence’s possession that have swung the pendulum in favour of Zuma.

In terms of the Criminal Procedure Act, the NPA is obliged to go to court to withdraw charges when it decides not to proceed with a prosecution.

It is expected that the NPA will approach Tshabalala about the matter in chambers as part of the formal process that will put an end to Zuma’s eight-year legal battle.

Sources say Tshabalala could simply strike the case off the roll without fanfare, and not wait for the August 25 trial date, when Zuma will be in court for the charges to be formally withdrawn by the state.

Either way, Zuma will appear in open court for the charges to be withdrawn against him.

"If he (Tshabalala) wants the case to follow the roll procedure, then the NPA will then have to sneak the case in court and won’t have to wait for August.

It is the matter of procedure really," a source said on Saturday.

Reached for comment yesterday, Tshabalala said: "I know nothing about it. I am not aware of any case involving the NPA or Jacob Zuma that is set down for this week in Pietermaritzburg."

Mpshe has thus far declined to publicly commit to a date for his decision, saying he was still considering the submissions, including those made by the DA on Thursday. "I don’t know whether we are going to drop it (the case) or not. I am presently considering their representations.

Indications are that, should Mpshe drop the charges, he will have no choice but to disclose the nature of the new evidence.

Rather than the evidence going to the merits of the case, which remains solid, it will revolve around the allegations of political conspiracy that Zuma has maintained was behind the case against him from day one.

It is likely to prove a huge embarrassment for, among others, those in the former Mbeki administration and could cast a long shadow on what is left of the former president’s legacy since he was replaced last year.