Charges denied

Although reopening the case could bolster a new party formed by breakaway ANC members loyal to Thebo Mbeki, the former president, which says the ANC's handling of it has undermined the rule of law, it is unlikely to hamper Zuma's political ambitions as a verdict would probably take months.

"There is no way that this case will stop Zuma from becoming president," Aubrey Matshiqi, a senior associate at the Centre for Policy Studies, told the Reuters news agency.

"It's too early to tell whether the breakaway party's argument about the rule of law will fly with the majority of voters, but my feeling is it will not."

Zuma, who has denied the charges, said previously he would only step down as ANC leader if he was proved guilty.

Zuma loyalists say he is the victim of a political witch-hunt by Mbeki.

Political upheaval

A political battle between the former president and Zuma has deeply divided the ANC, the dominant force in South African politics since the end of white rule in 1994.

Nicholson's ruling in September led to the biggest political upheaval in South Africa since the end of apartheid.

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Interview with Jacob Zuma

The ANC forced Mbeki's resignation shortly afterwards and a group of dissidents loyal to the former president announced they would form a breakaway party.

Investors fear that if Zuma wins next year's vote, he may bow to pressure from his leftist allies to steer Africa's biggest economy away from the pro-business policies championed by Mbeki's administration.

Zuma was South Africa's deputy president for six years before he was forced out in 2005 by Mbeki after being implicated in a corruption trial that saw his former financial adviser, Schabir Shaik, convicted on fraud and corruption charges.

He was acquitted of rape charges in May 2006.