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22.02.2020 South Africa

S.Africa's Zuma returns from medical trip to Cuba

By AFP
South Africa's embattled former president Jacob Zuma was slapped with an arrest warrant earlier this month.  By Michele Spatari (POOL/AFP/File)
LISTEN FEB 22, 2020
South Africa's embattled former president Jacob Zuma was slapped with an arrest warrant earlier this month. By Michele Spatari (POOL/AFP/File)

South Africa's graft-accused former president Jacob Zuma returned home on Saturday after a month-long trip to Cuba for medical treatment, and declared he was not afraid of prison.

Zuma, 77, was slapped with an arrest warrant earlier this month after his lawyers claimed he was too ill to travel back to South Africa for a pre-trial hearing on corruption charges.

A high court issued the warrant after it questioned the authenticity of his sick note, but said it would not be executed until the case is set to resume on May 6.

A crowd of people gathered at Johannesburg's OR Tambo international airport to welcome Zuma, the former ANC leader who ruled South Africa from 2009 to 2018.

"I am not afraid of prison," Zuma told his supporters in Zulu before being ushered out of the arrivals hall.

He raised his thumbs and grinned from behind a pair of dark glasses as a singing crowd gathered around him.

Zuma is alleged to have taken bribes of four million rand (about $267,000) related to a $3.4 billion arms deal in 1999 when he was deputy president.

In all, he faces 16 charges of fraud, graft and racketeering related to the purchase of fighter jets, patrol boats and military equipment.

The arrest warrant was just the latest twist in a case that has seen many legal turns over the past decade and a half.

Critics have dubbed Zuma the "Teflon president" for his reputed ability to evade judicial reckoning.

He has also been accused of orchestrating the systematic plunder of government coffers during his rule in a scandal known as "state capture".

"(Zuma) has always respected the courts," supporter Carl Niehaus told reporters before the ex-president's arrivals.

"There is no need to vilify him and try and turn him into a fugitive of justice."

Little has been disclosed about the current state of Zuma's health or the type of treatment he has been receiving.

He was forced to step down in 2018 by the ruling African National Congress (ANC) after a nine-year reign marked by corruption allegations and dwindling popularity.

sch/txw

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