South Africa’s former president, Jacob Zuma, has responded in combative style after he was slapped with an arrest warrant for failing to appear for a pre-trial hearing on corruption charges.
A day after his lawyers said he was unable to attend the proceedings because he was ill, Zuma posted a tweet showing himself with a rifle, aiming through a telescopic sight and with his finger on the trigger.
The picture was tweeted on Wednesday without accompanying text. It was taken two years ago, according to his son, but the location was not given. By midday Thursday, it had drawn 20,000 “likes.”
Zuma, who was in power from 2009 to 2018, faces 16 charges of fraud, graft and racketeering related to the purchase of fighter jets, patrol boats and military equipment from the time when he was deputy president.
On Tuesday, the High Court in the southeastern city of Pietermaritzburg issued an arrest warrant after it questioned the authenticity of the sick note said to have been signed by a doctor from a military hospital.
“The court accepts that Mr Zuma may be unwell,” said judge Dhaya Pillay. “But this court needs reliable evidence that Mr Zuma is indeed ill.”
“It is not clear that (the doctor) is indeed a regular practitioner,” she said.
The court said that execution of the warrant will be deferred until May 6 when the case is due to resume.
The sick note does not give any details about any health problems. In the box earmarked for diagnosis it says simply “medical condition.” Its date also seems to have been modified.
Those who have hailed the warrant decision include the main opposition Democratic Alliance, among the many critics of a man nicknamed the “Teflon President” for his perceived ability to evade justice.
The court “has put its foot down and shown Mr Zuma that he can no longer continue wasting the court’s time and public resources because he is too afraid to face the music,” it said.
Zuma’s supporters reacted angrily.
“Hands off,” one of his sons, Edward Zuma, said in a statement.
“They’ve tried nailing him, they can’t find anything. Can they just leave the man alone to enjoy his pension.”
Interviewed by the news channel eNCA about his father’s tweet, he denied that the gun was a symbol of defiance about the arrest warrant — “it is purely for birds,” he said, adding that the picture was taken two years ago.
But commentators said the choice and timing of the image was hardly coincidence, and seemed aimed at his grassroots supporters in the ANC, which is deeply divided into pro- and anti-Zuma factions.
“The image depicts him as a warrior,” political analyst Daniel Silke told AFP. “The picture seems to be an act of what I would call bravado.”
The tweet was Zuma’s first since December 29, when he posted a video clip of himself dancing with a local gospel choir.
Zuma retains much backing among the party’s radicals, who fondly recall his role in the anti-apartheid struggle and say he is the victim of a plot.
Zuma was forced to step down in 2018 by the ANC as mounting corruption allegations and dwindling popularity swamped his presidency.
The secretary-general of the ruling African National Congress (ANC), Ace Magashule, retweeted the rifle photo along with the lyrics of an apartheid-era struggle song which translate as “The fight of soldiers, the fight of guerrillas.”
“This warrant of arrest is a clear indication that former president Zuma will not get a fair trial,” the party’s Youth League in KwaZulu-Natal province said.
The warrant is “a travesty of justice,” added Zuma supporter Bathabile Dlamini, who heads the ANC’s influential Women’s League. The sick note which triggered the arrest warrant “would have been effortless to verify.”
The doctor whose name is on the note, Z.K. Motene, is a registered South African doctor, according to the physicians’ official website, and according to a source in the president’s office “has been Zuma’s doctor for a long time.”