Zuma on the sue path

The group, led by conservative advocate Jurg Prinsloo, began sending letters of demand this week to several media houses, demanding financial compensation for “defamation” relating to media coverage of Zuma’s rape trial.

Prinsloo has apparently offered his legal services to Zuma free of charge, because the latter had allegedly been kind to Afrikaners.

The move seems set to embarrass Zuma’s political backers and has alienated his senior advisers, potentially placing the former deputy president on a new collision course with the African National Congress (ANC) and alienating his left-wing backers in the alliance.

Zuma’s inner circle is understood to have advised against the move. Key Zuma aides feel the lawsuits could be politically costly on the eve of his corruption trial, which the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) has described as a “political trial”.

The charges followed a finding by the Durban High Court of a “generally corrupt” relationship between Zuma and his financial adviser, Schabir Shaik, during Shaik’s fraud and corruption trial.

Zuma draws most of his support from left-leaning organisations including Cosatu, the South African Communist Party (SACP), the Young Communist League, as well as the ANC Youth League. These organisations are likely to be angered by his association with Prinsloo, a former apartheid MP who defended Clive Derby-Lewis and Janus Walusz, both convicted of the 1993 murder of SACP stalwart Chris Hani.

According to several sources close to Zuma, independent film producer Liesl Gottert is also involved in Zuma’s salvo against the media. Gottert and Prinsloo appear to head a new outfit called “The Office of Jacob Zuma”.

Gottert produced a documentary, The Zuma Media Trial, which alleged Zuma was the victim of a trial by media orchestrated by his opponents in the ANC.

But this has not deterred the “office”, which issued a press release to various publications and radio stations giving financial details of Zuma’s claim against the media. In total, Zuma is demanding R63m from newspapers, cartoonist Zapiro and Johannesburg radio station 94.7 Highveld Stereo.

The latest row with the media is the third time that Zuma has caused a public relations nightmare for his alliance supporters. Both Cosatu and the SACP were wrong-footed by last December’s rape charge against Zuma. During the trial, Zuma also made statements that undermined the fight against HIV/AIDS.

The Media Institute of Southern Africa questioned why Zuma had decided to sue instead of laying a complaint with the press ombudsman. The press ombudsman’s office said it had not received any complaints from Zuma.

Caxton Media, publishers of the Citizen newspaper, and Independent Newspapers, publishers of the Sunday Independent and The Star, confirmed receiving claims against their publications this week.

The existence of the “office” could place Zuma in contempt of an ANC national general council decision that all activities in support of the beleaguered politician be coordinated by the ruling party.

Zuma’s detractors consider outside outfits like the Friends of Jacob Zuma Trust and the new “office” to undermine the ANC’s stance. ‘ Business Day.

July 2006
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