South Africa's axed deputy president accused of rape charges

Supporters of South Africa's axed deputy president and women's rights activists planned large demonstrations Monday outside the Johannesburg High Court for his second appearance on rape charges.

The case could destroy the political career of Jacob Zuma, who once seemed certain to succeed President Thabo Mbeki at the head of Africa's economic and diplomatic powerhouse.

Mbeki fired Zuma in June after he was implicated in a bribery scandal. The dismissal opened a rift within the governing African National Congress, where Zuma retains support among left-leaning members as well as in the party's trade union and South African Communist Party allies.

Although Zuma retains the title of ANC deputy president, he withdrew from leadership duties in December when he was charged with raping a 31-year-old family friend at his Johannesburg home. He denies both charges.

Security was tight for Monday's hearing. Police said streets around the downtown court building would be closed between 6 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Zuma's supporters maintain he is the victim of a smear campaign intended to destroy his chances of becoming president. Large, sometimes unruly crowds have turned out for his court appearances in the corruption case, and the Friends of Jacob Zuma Trust Fund promised a strong showing Monday.

However, a growing number appear to have reserved judgment on the rape allegation, a more damaging charge politically in a country facing high levels of violence against women. Activists from People Opposing Women Abuse also planned to demonstrate Monday, reports the AP.

I.L.