South Africa’s ‘People’s President’ Could Finally Go to Jail

His upcoming corruption trial has South Africans worried the streets could erupt in violence.
October 19, 2021, 8:15am
A man fires a handgun in the air to disperse a mob of alleged looters outside of the Chris Hani Mall in Vosloorus, on July 14, 2021. (Photo by GUILLEM SARTORIO/AFP via Getty Images)

When South Africa’s former President Jacob Zuma went to prison briefly in June for refusing to participate in a corruption inquiry, it sparked widespread protests and deadly violence in his home state. And now, with his long-awaited trial for the original corruption charges about to begin, people fear the streets could erupt again.

More than 20 years in the making, the trial for 79-year-old Zuma is finally set to start Oct. 26, with the iconic ex-leader facing charges of corruption, money laundering, and racketeering related to a 1999 arms deal with the multinational French company Thales. At the time, Zuma was deputy president, and he is charged with accepting bribes to protect Thales from an investigation. He pleaded not guilty in May. 


Zuma has faced charges of corruption before, and South Africans are closely watching what will happen this time. Some hope that Zuma will be found guilty and this trial and his sentence will be an example of how the country deals with corruption and holds the powerful to account. But for his supporters, the trial looks like another part of a political campaign to target Zuma and erase his legacy as “The People’s President”, a powerful, Black, icon who fought to liberate South Africa from apartheid

Zuma’s sentencing in June set off more than a week of violence left 342 people dead, 3,407 people arrested and billions in property damage. Current President Cyril Ramaphosa called the violence “a failed insurrection,’ and South Africans are once again on edge as the trial approaches.

VICE News Reports spoke to journalist Ntshepeng Mtoma in Johannesburg, to explain what this case means for South Africa’s future.  

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This story was produced by Steph Brown. 

VICE News Reports is hosted by Arielle Duhaime-Ross and produced by Jesse Alejandro Cottrell, Sophie Kazis, Jen Kinney, Janice Llamoca, Julia Nutter, and Sayre Quevedo. Our senior producers are Ashley Cleek and Adizah Eghan. Our associate producers are Steph Brown, Sam Eagan, and Adreanna Rodriguez. Sound design and music composition by Steve Bone, Pran Bandi and Kyle Murdock. 


Our executive producer and VP of Vice Audio is Kate Osborn. Janet Lee is Senior Production Manager for VICE Audio.


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