Jacob Zuma, who was ousted by the ruling party in February, faces 16 charges of fraud, racketeering and money laundering relating to a deal to buy 30 billion rand of European military hardware for South Africa's armed forces in the late 1990s.
Zuma, 75, appeared relaxed during the brief hearing during which the case was adjourned until June 8. He later emerged from the courthouse in the coastal city of Durban to address a large crowd of supporters, many sporting regalia of the ruling African National Congress party.
Charges against Jacob Zuma were thrown out by prosecutors nearly a decade ago in a contentious decision that opened the way for him to become president. The charges relate to an arms deal in the 1990s, when Zuma was deputy president.
The Guptas arrived in South Africa from India in the early 1990s and built up a business empire with interests ranging from mining to pay television. They acquired a private jet and mansions from Cape Town to Dubai.