His lawyer accused the National Prosecuting Authority of trying to discredit Zuma and said he would "vigorously" defend the charges, including accusations of corruption, fraud, racketeering and money laundering.
"The timing is calculated to quickly redress the popular support and call to leadership of the ANC which Mr. Zuma's election so obviously demonstrates," Zuma's lawyer Michael Hulley wrote in an e-mail to the Associated Press.
Last week Zuma defeated incumbent president Thabo Mbeki for leadership of the African National Congress, positioning him to take power from Mbeki in presidential elections slated for 2009. The ANC, which under the leadership of Nelson Mandela led the fight against apartheid, dominates South African politics and its leader traditionally wins the post of president.
Zuma spent a decade in prison with Mandela and enjoys broad support within the ANC, where he rose to political prominence as part of its military wing. He defeated Mbeki last week with 60 percent of the vote.
The new charges and the possibility of a trial that may stretch into the 2009 election cycle could derail Zuma's chances as president and deepen divisions within the ANC after the bitter battle for its leadership. Zuma is set to stand trial in August 2008. He has said he would step down if convicted in a trial.
Zuma served as deputy president for six years but was fired by Mbeki in 2005 after Zuma was implicated in the corruption scandal. The charges against Zuma were thrown out last year on a technicality, but one of his aides was convicted and jailed for 15 years.
The charges include counts of racketeering and money laundering in addition to corruption and fraud. According to allegations, Zuma accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from Thint, a French weapons company, to stop investigations into a $7.1 million arms deal with the government.
In an unrelated scandal, Zuma was also acquitted of rape charges in May 2006. During that trial, Zuma shocked observers by admitting that he had unprotected sex with a woman accusing him of rape and then took a shower to avoid contracting HIV.