Jacob Zuma. Picture: GETTY IMAGES
Jacob Zuma. Picture: GETTY IMAGES

The formal notice of withdrawal of services by Jacob Zuma’s legal team in his corruption trial in Pietermaritzburg on Wednesday could be favourable for the former president.

Eric Mabuza filed the notice as Zuma’s attorney of record, but did not provide reasons for the withdrawal ahead of the trial in the high court, which has been set down for May 17. Mabuza did not respond to queries.

National Prosecuting Authority spokesperson Sipho Ngwema confirmed receipt of correspondence from Mabuza Attorneys. "The state remains ready to proceed with the trial from May 17 2021," he said.

The withdrawal has immediate implications for the trial.

Lawson Naidoo, executive secretary of the Council for the Advancement of the SA Constitution, said that in the light of the Supreme Court of Appeal judgment that closed the taps on state funding for Zuma’s criminal trial "it is not surprising that his attorneys have withdrawn".

"It is also rather fortuitous for Mr Zuma that it comes at this time. It may provide him with grounds to seek a delay in the trial. He would have to convince a court that additional time is necessary and what a reasonable delay might constitute."

Naidoo said that if necessary Zuma must apply for legal aid "and he will be means tested to determine if he qualifies for it".

Advocate Paul Jorgensen said "the most innocent explanation" is insufficient funds.

"A second reason could be a conflict within the legal team or between his attorney and him in respect of the manner in which to handle the trial. At its most suspect, it is an orchestrated move on the part of Zuma to place his attorneys in a position where they perceive they have to ethically withdraw. The benefit to Zuma is that his trial is delayed," Jorgensen said.

He said in the circumstances, he could not see the court forcing Zuma to continue without legal representation because of the magnitude of the matter.

With regard to Thales, he said it could bring an application to have the matter against it struck from the roll, rather than being adjourned in order for Zuma to hire new lawyers, because of undue delays that were not of its doing.

Last week, the Supreme Court of Appeal dismissed Zuma’s bid to overturn a previous ruling by the high court that he was not entitled to state funding and he had to pay back taxpayers’ money already spent — more than R15m.

Mabuza replaced Michael Hulley and Associates as his attorneys of record in April 2020.

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