JOHANNESBURG — A politically influential son of former President Jacob Zuma of South Africa was cleared of culpable homicide on Friday in a case that has come to be seen as a proxy for factional battles within the governing African National Congress.
The charges against the son, Duduzane Zuma, also included negligent and reckless driving in connection with a crash in February 2014, when his sports car — a Porsche 911 Turbo — hit a minibus in Johannesburg. One minibus passenger died, and several other people were injured.
Delivering his judgment in a Johannesburg courtroom, Magistrate Tebogo Thupaatlase said that the state had failed to prove Mr. Zuma’s guilt in the trial.
Defense lawyers contended that there was no evidence of negligent driving by Mr. Zuma and said the Porsche had hydroplaned on a puddle, an outcome they argued was beyond the driver’s control. The judge seemed to agree, saying of the puddle that “a reasonable driver would not have been able to see it.”
Prosecutors had initially declined to charge Mr. Zuma, citing insufficient evidence, a decision that was questioned because the national prosecuting authority during the Zuma presidency had gained a reputation for loyally defending the interests of the leader’s family and his allies.
The head of prosecutions, Shaun Abrahams, became known in the local news media as Shaun the Sheep.
The state reversed course and brought homicide charges against Mr. Zuma in 2018, shortly after South Africa’s current president, Cyril Ramaphosa, ousted his father from office. Prosecutors separately charged the younger Mr. Zuma in a high-level bribery scandal, although that case was dropped earlier this year.
Duduzane Zuma was a close business associate of the Gupta family, Indian business magnates now at the center of a national corruption scandal.
After his father was elected president of the governing African National Congress in 2007 — and then president of South Africa two years later — Duduzane Zuma began rising within the Guptas’ sprawling business empire, which spanned the technology, media and mining sectors. Within three years, Mr. Zuma had been appointed director of 11 Gupta-owned companies.
After crashing his Porsche, according to leaked emails obtained by local news outlets, the first person Mr. Zuma contacted was one of the Gupta brothers.
Jacob Zuma, who is facing corruption charges of his own, attended the judgment on Friday in support of his son. On Monday, the former president will appear for the first time in a wide-ranging inquiry into “state capture,” or corruption at the highest levels of government.
With a characteristic laugh, Jacob Zuma told a reporter from the South African Broadcasting Corporation that he was pleased with the trial’s outcome. Speaking in Zulu, he added that he would attend next week’s hearings to comment on the corruption allegations against him.
Ralph Mathekga, a prominent analyst and author of “Ramaphosa’s Turn: Can Cyril Save South Africa?” said the case has taken on a strong symbolic meaning. “It’s about whether South Africa turns the page on the Zuma dynasty,” he said.
In an interview just before the verdict was announced, Mr. Mathekga added that the ruling would be subject to criticism regardless of the outcome, reflecting the extent of the fractures within the A.N.C. and the way those divisions have eroded trust in public institutions.
“Can the criminal justice system function in a way that it can be seen to be free of political influence?” said Mr. Mathekga.