Neutralise this pungent smell

The most perturbing aspects of the reaction from those in authority to revelations that Deputy President Jacob Zuma is being investigated by the Scorpions unit have been the contrived silence and egg-dancing. Zuma has glibly declared his innocence and proclaimed his right to remain silent until he is called to stand before a court of law. The National Directorate of Public Prosecutions, under whose wing the Scorpions unit falls, conveniently says it does not comment on investigations into specific individuals and refuses to confirm what is already public knowledge –that it has put written questions to certain individuals about Zuma’s conduct and movements.

The government in which Zuma serves as second-in-command and which last year gave the multibillion-rand arms deal a clean bill of health, has not said a word about what is clearly a very grave matter.

The ruling African National Congress, which normally jumps to the defence of its cadres when they come under scrutiny, has been silent on allegations against one of its most influential leaders and a man who is only a heartbeat away from the presidency.

While we respect the right of the Scorpions not to comment on individual cases, it is noteworthy that there have been instances such as the case of the Ranch brothel and its probe into the affairs of billionaire Billy Rautenbach where it has not been constrained by this protocol.

But be that as it may, those in authority should realise that it is in fact a credit to South Africa’s political system that the state’s agency, headed by a political appointee, is able to conduct a vigorous investigation into the country’s number two citizen. There are many developed countries in the world where such allegations would never reach the level they have reached in the Zuma matter.

That, unfortunately, is about the only positive spin that can be put on this matter.

What needs to happen now is for Zuma to come forth and immediately restore integrity to the office he occupies. Hiding behind the legalistic argument that he will only give detailed answers once the matter gets to court does nothing to neutralise the pungent smell surrounding the matter.

Most reasonable people would agree that there is no reason why Zuma should not be in a position to declare openly whether he, together with his financial adviser, Schabir Shaik, did in fact attend a meeting with Alain Thetard, a senior executive of Thales (then Thomson-CSF) in Durban on March 11 2000. If he was there, he should share with the public what the intention and content of the meeting was.

If he was not at that meeting, he should immediately distance himself from the allegations contained in the correspondence attached to the Scorpions affidavits. What is a clear and irrefutable fact is that there are parties –which appear to have included his financial adviser — who believe that he had agreed to accept a sizeable bribe in return for protecting Thales and for providing his “permanent support for future projects”.

The other matter that Zuma should come clean about is the exact nature of his relationship with Shaik. Shaik is, by all accounts, a controversial figure and a very wily operator.

He is currently facing charges of being in possession of confidential Cabinet documents. He is also a director of an arms company that is being investigated in connection with possible impropriety in relation to the multibillion-rand arms deal.

We detail elsewhere in this newspaper the closeness of the ties between Zuma and Shaik — a bond that has seen Shaik making personal transactions on behalf of Zuma — including paying his children’s school fees.

Regardless of the long-standing ties and the personal bonhomie, does the deputy president really believe it is prudent that he be so closely associated with a man who is facing allegations of such a serious nature?

If Zuma wishes to restore the faith that so many South Africans have in him, his leadership and his office, he should immediately act to clear his name by opening his finances up to scrutiny.

Equally, the government cannot remain silent on this matter. Last year it proclaimed to South Africa and the world that the integrity of the arms deal was beyond question. A troupe of government ministers and functionaries assured us that those who were said to be lower down in the food chain and who may have sought to use their influence unduly would meet the full might of the law. Now the Zuma allegations have cast doubt on the integrity of much of that report.

South Africa has thus far presented itself as a leader in the war against corruption. It has championed Africa’s fight against multinationals that send their grubby men to our shores to corrupt our politicians and bureaucrats.

The cancer of foreign-sponsored corruption is one that Africa must defeat. But little progress will be made as long as a cloud hangs over its most influential government.

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