Zuma rape trial focus for protesters

SUPPORTERS of the former South African vice-president Jacob Zuma, on trial for the rape of an HIV-positive AIDS activist, burned pictures of his accuser outside court yesterday and chanted: "Burn this bitch."

Some 300 supporters of Zuma, who denies raping Feseka Khuzwayo, 31, were confronted by women's groups protesting about the high level of rape in South Africa.

Eight in every nine of the demonstrators outside Johannesburg's High Court wore gags, highlighting the national Medical Research Council's claim that only one in nine rapes in South Africa is reported to the police.

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Ms Khuzwayo's courage in reporting her alleged rape and the high profile of the man she has accused are just two of the reasons for this trial being politically sensational.

Zuma, who still has ambitions to become the country's next president, will also go on trial in Durban's High Court in July on charges of fraud and corruption in connection with a multi-million pound arms deal with European companies, including British Aerospace.

The second day of 63-year-old Zuma's rape trial began with an application in camera by his defence team for permission to cross-examine the complainant about her sexual history, forbidden in South Africa unless the judge decides there are special circumstances.

After deliberating all morning, the judge, Willem van der Merwe, granted the defence the right to ask such questions. Under cross-examination by the defence advocate, Kemp J Kemp, Ms Khuzwayo said that she had been raped before.

Asked how she had become HIV-positive, she told the court she did not know how or from whom she had contracted the virus. She said: "The HIV test only tells you you are positive. It does not tell you where you got the virus from."

However, reports published before the trial said Ms Khuzwayo had been raped as a teenager in an African National Congress camp in exile, before apartheid fell, and contracted HIV at that time - as did many girls in the camps in Angola, Zambia and Tanzania. South Africa has more people living with HIV/AIDS - over six million - than any other country.

The trial also has significance because, before he was sacked from the government nine months ago by the president, Thabo Mbeki, Zuma was in charge of the ANC government's national moral regeneration campaign and was chairman of the National AIDS Council. Both organisations urged young people to "condomise" when they had sex to avoid contracting HIV.

Asked on the first day of the trial whether Zuma had used a condom during the alleged rape last November, Ms Khuzwayo replied: "He did not."

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It is this aspect of the trial that is attracting widespread debate beyond the courtroom. AIDS activist organisations say it was an act of gross irresponsibility for Zuma, who has two wives as well as one divorced and one deceased wife, to have had unprotected sex, especially as he knew the woman was HIV-positive.

Zuma has pleaded not guilty to rape. He says he had sex with Ms Khuzwayo, but maintains it was consensual.

Ms Khuzwayo's cross-examination continues today.