The High Court has blocked an appeal by South African president against corruption charges dating back to the 1990s.
A potentially explosive report into corruption allegations against President Jacob Zuma must be released on Wednesday, a South African court has ruled, after his lawyers dropped a bid to block its publication.
The court’s order came as thousands of people took to the streets of the administrative capital Pretoria to demand that Zuma resigns.
The report by the Public Protector, the country’s most senior watchdog, probed accusations that Zuma allowed a wealthy Indian family undue political sway, including letting them choose some cabinet ministers.
“The Public Protector is ordered to publish the report forthwith and by no later than 17:00 hours (15:00 GMT),” judge Dunstan Mlambo told the High Court in Pretoria.
Former public protector Thuli Madonsela concluded her report into the influence of the Gupta family last month, shortly before the expiry of her seven-year term.
It was due to be released on October 14 – until Zuma moved to block it.
Zuma’s lawyers dropped their bid to block the report earlier on Wednesday.
“My instructions are to withdraw the application,” Anthea Platt, Zuma’s lawyer, told the High Court in Pretoria.
Later in the day, the presidency released a statement saying Zuma had withdrawn his application to delay the release of the report in the interests of justice.
“In the interest of justice and speedy resolution of the matter, the president decided to withdraw his application,” the presidency said.
“The president will give consideration to the contents of the report in order to ascertain whether it should be the subject of a court challenge.”
Mmusi Maimane, leader of the main opposition Democratic Alliance party, hailed the court order to publish the report as “a turning point in South Africa”.
He added: “Today is a historic day … Jacob Zuma must be held accountable.”
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“There are some people in this country who are convinced that if Zuma is convicted, he must step down,” said Al Jazeera’s Haru Mutasa, reporting from Pretoria.
“That is going to be a process, of course. Some opposition leaders are saying that they will drag him to court, some say they want parliament to have a vote of non-confidence and some want him to be impeached.
“It will be a process, but people are waiting to see what is going to be in this report, how damaging it will be to the president.”
The president, 74, has survived a string of damaging controversies, but faces increasing criticism as the economy stalls and after the ruling ANC party suffered unprecedented losses in local polls.
Some factions of the ANC, former anti-apartheid activists and business leaders have all recently called for him to stand down before his term ends in 2019.
On Wednesday thousands of opposition party supporters, unions and civil groups marched through Pretoria to protest against Zuma’s presidency.
“Protesters have managed to march to the Union Building, but police fired rubber bullets and used stun grenades to push the people back,” said Al Jazeera’s Mutasa.
“We are actually here to defend our democratic constitution and our democratic state. We cannot live in a country where some things are hidden,” a protester told Al Jazeera.
“We are very happy that the court went on the side of the opposition and decided to release this report,” he added.
The marches were originally planned to show support for Pravin Gordhan, the finance minister, who was due in court on Wednesday on separate corruption charges that many analysts see as an attempt by Zuma loyalists to remove him.
But prosecutors dropped the charges on Monday in another twist to a power struggle that has exposed deep tensions in the ANC.
The ANC, the party that Nelson Mandela led in the fight against apartheid, has held power since white-minority rule ended in 1994.
The Gupta family – brothers Ajay, Atul and Rajesh – built an empire in mining, transportation, technology and media after arriving in South Africa from India in the early 1990s.
One of Zuma’s sons, Duduzane, is their business partner.
Early this year, Mcebisi Jonas, South Africa’s deputy finance minister, accused the Gupta family of offering him the job of finance minister, something he said he rejected.
Zuma last month said he was not given enough time to respond to the watchdog’s questions.