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Zuma made his first appearance in Durban High Court this morning, facing 16 charges related to 783 counts of corruption, fraud, racketeering and money laundering.

Zuma was deputy president at the time of the 1990s arms deal, which has cast a shadow over politics in South Africa for years.

"Some people are acting like I have been convicted, I am innocent until proven guilty", he said, according to Reuters news agency.

Flanked by security guards and dressed in a dark suit, Zuma, 75, smiled broadly and gave a thumbs-up as he walked into the court building, where he will appear for a brief preliminary hearing on the case.

After years of legal challenges, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) last month decided Zuma must face trial.

The ruling ANC party had asked the president to resign or face a possible vote of no confidence at the parliament on Thursday, February 15.

Hundreds were gathered outside the court sporting t-shirts in support of Zuma and singing and dancing, while members of the clergy held vigorous prayers for the former leader.

The move to pursue the charges against Zuma came after the Supreme Court of Appeal in October upheld a lower court ruling that the decision to drop the charges in 2009 was "irrational" and that the political considerations that had tainted the investigation were irrelevant to the integrity of the case.

Zuma is a Zulu and has his ancestral home in eastern KwaZulu-Natal, the province which makes up the bedrock of his support base.

"Hands off Zuma", they chanted.

The deal was mired in scandal and controversy from the start, with many inside and outside the ANC questioning the spending given the massive social issues, from health to education, Nelson Mandela's party had to address after coming to power in 1994.

Also in the dock was a representative of Thales, a French defence company accused of paying bribes to Zuma in the arms deal.

The graft case against former president Jacob Zuma has been postponed to June 8.

The charges were re-instated in 2016.

Mr Zuma countered with his own legal challenges.