The charges relate to a 30bn rand ($2.5bn; £1.7bn) government arms deal in the late 1990s, before he became president.
French arms supplier Thales will also face charges, a prosecutor said. Thales declined to comment, reports the AFP news agency.
Mr Zuma is alleged to have sought bribes from Thales to support an extravagant lifestyle. His financial adviser at the time was found guilty of soliciting those bribes in 2005 and Mr Zuma was later sacked as deputy president.
He now faces one charge of racketeering, two charges of corruption, one charge of money laundering and 12 of fraud.
The country’s chief prosecutor, Shaun Abrahams, has now decided to pursue a case against the former president.
The controversial arms deal
In 1999, the South African government announced its largest-ever post-apartheid arms deal, signing contracts totalling 30bn rand ($5bn; £2.5bn) to modernise its national defence force
The deal involved companies from Germany, Italy, Sweden, the UK, France and South Africa
Allegations of bribery over the deal dogged the governments of both President Jacob Zuma and and one of his predecessors, Thabo Mbeki.
Schabir Shaik was found guilty in 2005 of trying to solicit a bribe from Thint, the local subsidiary of French arms firm Thales, on behalf of Mr Zuma. He was released on parole on health grounds after serving just over two years
Another official, Tony Yengeni, who was chairman of parliament’s defence committee at the time of the deal and chief whip of the ANC, was convicted of fraud in 2003. He was also freed on parole after serving five months of a four-year sentence.