South African opposition parties said they respected the outcome of African National Congress (ANC) president Jacob Zuma’s bid to have his prosecution on corruption and other charges declared unlawful.

The parties reacted to Judge Chris Nicholson’s judgment on Friday in a packed Pietermaritzburg High Court who said the prosecution was procedurally invalid because the National Directorate of Public Prosecutions ought to have heard the applicant’s representation before he was charged. He stressed that the application had nothing to do with Zuma’s guilt or otherwise.

Independent Democrat (ID) president Patricia De Lille said ‘the ID respects the decision, but that this application challenged the procedure to re-charge Zuma and did not deal with the substantive allegations which the ID believes must still be pursued in a criminal court. “Zuma must still face the music and clear his name,” De Lille said.

“The Judgement also clearly indicates blatant political interference by President Mbeki and Cabinet members in the NPA process and the timing of charging Zuma.

“The ID views this as a shocking indictment on Mbeki and his cabinet and lends further weight to the IDs call for a vote of no confidence in the President and the Cabinet.”

The rightwing opposition party Freedom Front Plus (FF+) said Judge Nicholson’s decision means that South Africa may never know the whole truth about the arms deal.

FF+ leader Dr. Pieter Mulder said his party respects the independence of the judiciary, but would recommend that the government immediately institutes an independent commission to investigate the arms deal. “This is the only way in which the cloud of alleged corruption over the arms deal, Mr. Zuma and President Mbeki, could finally be removed.

“It appears from the judgment of Judge Nicholson that the independence of the National Prosecuting Authority had been undermined politically and was manipulated by political in-fighting in the ANC,” Mulder said.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) said it is clear Zuma’s prosecution was politically manipulated.

Cosatu spokesperson Patrick Craven said the court findings vindicated the stance of Cosatu.

“We agree in particular with Judge [Chris] Nicholson’s description of the decision in 2003 by the then national director of public prosecutions, Bulelani Ngcuka, not to prosecute Zuma despite the presence of a prima facie case, as ‘bizarre’, given that a decision had been made to prosecute Schabir Shaik and his corporate entities,” Craven said.

He said Friday’s judgment did not rule on Zuma’s guilt or innocence, and theoretically the NPA could re-launch a prosecution.

“However today’s judgement seriously undermined the credibility of the NPA and the whole basis of the NPA’s case, and goes a long way to vindicate Cosatu’s demand for the permanent dropping of all the charges against the ANC president,” he said.

Cheers of joy erupted outside the court when the verdict was broadcast to his supporters camped out in Freedom Square, opposite the court, in a chilly Pietermaritzburg.

Surrounded by dozens of bodyguards, Zuma waved as he arrived to address his supporters, some of whom had climbed into trees to catch a glimpse of him.

“Chris Nicholson is not a counter-revolutionary judge,” ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe told supporters after the ruling.

ANC Youth League president Julius Malema said he always knew Zuma would win the court bid to have the prosecution declared invalid.

“The problem in this country is [President] Thabo Mbeki and his people… We don’t want him,” Malema said.

“The NEC [national executive committee] has got a responsibility to recall Mbeki or else we will recall them.

“To the racist media… we defeated you again,” Malema added to loud cheers.

Behind him was a huge banner with a picture of Zuma and the words “hands off our president”.

“Today we feel absolutely vindicated. We want to see who are the rapists of the judicial system,” said Congress of South African Trade Unions secretary general Zwelinzima Vavi

“There is a political conspiracy, that’s what we have been saying. That’s what we have been ridiculed for.”

South African Communist Party general secretary Blade Nzimande said Zuma’s rights had been raped.