April 26, 2006

South African court urged to convict Zuma of rape

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, prosecutor Charin de Beer said
evidence proved Zuma raped a 31-year-old family friend in
November -- charges which could sink the political career of a
man once seen as South Africa's probable next president.

"It is submitted that the accused raped the complainant
without any care for the consequences to her," she told the
tiny packed courtroom at the Johannesburg High Court.

De Beer said the woman, who cannot legally be named, knew
the dangers of unprotected sex to herself, including possible
reinfection with HIV or another sexually transmitted disease.

"The complainant would not have compromised her health and
thereby shorten her life," she said.

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 sex at his
Johannesburg home on November 2.

The 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 as deputy president last year amid the
corruption scandal but remains deputy head of the ANC, a
possible springboard back to political power should he be
acquitted of both rape and graft -- his trial for which is due
later this year.

Earlier court hearings have drawn crowds of loyal Zuma
supporters outside the building but only a handful danced and
sang pro-Zuma songs there on Wednesday.


Judge Willem van der Merwe, who under South Africa's
non-jury trial system will decide the verdict, said on
Wednesday that ruling could be televised -- a sign of the
intense interest the case has generated amid signs of tension
within the political 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 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, because
he did not have a condom with him.

Zuma sparked fury among AIDS activists by saying he took a
shower after sex to minimise the risk of infection, dangerously
unsound advice in a country of some 45 million people where
more than 5 million are infected with HIV.