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Associated Press
Closing Arguments in South African's Trial
Alexandra Zavis
April 26, 2006
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa - South Africa's most politically explosive trial since the end of apartheid neared a conclusion Wednesday, with the prosecution describing as "fanciful" an assertion by former Deputy President Jacob Zuma that he had consensual sex with the woman who has accused him of rape.

Prosecutor Charin de Beer told the Johannesburg High Court in closing arguments that the 31-year-old HIV-positive woman would never have agreed to sex with Zuma because she regarded him as a father figure; wasn't interested in him sexually because she is a lesbian; and that she would have insisted on a condom, which was not used.

"It is clear that she was raped," de Beer said.

Zuma denies the charge, saying it was part of a plot to destroy his lingering hopes of becoming president when Thabo Mbeki leaves office in 2009. But de Beer said no evidence was submitted to back this up.

"His allegations of a politically motivated conspiracy ended up being nothing more than unsubstantiated conjecture," she said.

Judge Willem van der Merwe has said he will issue his decision in early May.

It had been widely assumed that Zuma, a 64-year-old former freedom fighter, would become president, until Mbeki dismissed him when he was implicated in a bribery scandal last year. He stands trial for corruption in July.

Zuma remains deputy president of the governing African National Congress and has considerable support among rank-and-file party members.

Zuma's trial has focused a spotlight on sexual abuse and AIDS in South Africa, which has some of the world's highest rates of both.

The trial has gripped the nation, with Zuma's defense lawyers aggressively probing the complainant's sexual past and arguing that she has a history of making false rape claims. The woman testified she was raped for the first time as a 5-year-old, while her parents were in exile from the white-minority regime.

It was during this period that the woman's family grew close to Zuma, who was a leader of the ANC's military wing.

De Beer said that the woman regarded Zuma as a father figure and frequently turned to him for advice and support after the death of her father.

She said that on the night of the alleged rape, the complainant had laughed off advances by Zuma. When he came into the guest room and woke her from her sleep, she said: "No, uncle," three times.

"She never consented to having sex with the accused. ... She said she was scared, couldn't move, talk or anything," de Beer said.

Given her HIV-positive status, de Beer said the woman would never have agreed to sex without a condom.

Zuma claimed the woman insisted he have sex with her, and that Zulu culture demanded he proceed because she was aroused.

"This is such an absurd reason to proceed without a condom that it ought to be rejected outright as, at most, Zuma culture," de Beer said.

She also dismissed as "fanciful" and "laughable" Zuma's assertions that the woman sent him flirty cell phone text messages and wore a knee-length skirt to entice him.

During the trial, Zuma told the court that he was not infected with the virus that causes AIDS. Zuma, who used to head the South African National AIDS Commission, caused an outcry among health professionals by testifying that the risk of him contracting the virus from unprotected sex was minimal and that he took a shower after intercourse to further reduce the chance of infection.

AIDS activists fear that his testimony will undermine prevention efforts in South Africa, where up to 6 million people are estimated to carry the virus. Women's rights advocates also say they fear that the aggressive questioning of the complainant will deter victims from reporting abuse.

The state is expected to wrap up its case Friday. It will then be the defense's turn to sum up.