April 26, 2006

Convict Zuma of rape, S.Africa court is urged

By Gershwin Wanneburg

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Prosecutors urged a South African
court on Wednesday to convict former Deputy President Jacob
Zuma of rape, saying his HIV-positive accuser would never have
consented to sex without a condom.

Beginning final arguments in the politically charged case,
prosecutor Charin de Beer reviewed evidence she said proved
Zuma raped a 31-year-old family friend last November -- charges
which threaten to sink the political career of a man once
regarded as South Africa's likely next president.

"It is common cause that she was diagnosed with HIV and
that she told the accused," de Beer said, adding the
complainant, who cannot be named under South African law, was
aware of the dangers of unprotected sex including possible
re-infection with HIV or another sexually transmitted disease.

"She testified that she would not have had sex without a
condom ... she categorically denied having consensual sex," de
Beer said as Zuma sat impassively in the courtroom.

Zuma, a popular politician with strong grassroots support
in the ruling African National Congress (ANC), has denied
raping the woman but said they had consensual relations at his
Johannesburg home on November 2.

The rape case followed separate graft charges earlier laid
against Zuma, who has denied both and said he is the victim of
a plot to end his hopes of succeeding President Thabo Mbeki
when his current and final term ends in 2009.

Zuma was sacked from his post of deputy president last year
amid the corruption scandal, but he remains deputy head of the
ANC, a possible springboard back to political power should he
be acquitted in both rape and graft cases.

Earlier court hearings have drawn large crowds of Zuma
supporters outside the Johannesburg High Court, but there was
no sign of pro-Zuma demonstrations on Wednesday.


Judge Willem van der Merwe, who under South Africa's
non-jury trial system will deliver the verdict, said on
Wednesday that ruling could be televised -- a sign of the
intense interest the case has generated amid growing signs of
political tension within the top leadership.

Final arguments in the case are scheduled to continue on
Friday after a public holiday on Thursday. A verdict is
expected within weeks.

Zuma's defense team has tried to discredit the complainant,
depicting her encounter with the 64-year-old politician as
flirtatious and reviewing her sexual history including claims
of rape she had made previously against other men.

De Beer, who has led the state's sometimes disorganized
case, noted on Wednesday that in two of these cases rape
convictions were obtained and said the woman had never wavered
in her account of the events.

"She consistently stuck to her version of who raped her or
abused her," de Beer said.

The trial has featured often graphic accounts of the
alleged rape, including Zuma's contention that he had sex with
the woman after giving her a baby-oil massage.

He further shocked the country at the center of Africa's
HIV/AIDS epidemic by testifying that he went ahead with
unprotected sex despite knowing she was HIV-positive, arguing
that he simply did not have a condom with him.

Zuma sparked fury among AIDS activists by saying he took a
shower after sex to minimize the risk of infection, dangerously
unsound advice in a country where more than 5 million people
are infected with HIV.