‘We’ve got the balls of elephants’

Schabir Shaik will tell the Durban High Court next week that there was nothing improper in his relationship with Deputy President Jacob Zuma, but that they were bound together by deeply personal ties of family and political struggle.

Central to the fraud and corruption charges Shaik faces is the allegation that he had a corrupt relationship with Zuma, who facilitated contracts for Shaik’s company in return for bribes. Both Zuma and Shaik have disputed this. The bond, they will argue, was a deep one of “human, undisclosed solidarity”.

Mo Shaik, Schabir’s younger brother and Zuma’s immediate subordinate in Umkhonto weSizwe’s (MK) intelligence services, also told the Mail & Guardian this week that the Shaik family would fight the charges to the bitter end. “We are prepared to sell everything and be poor again. We only have our names left to defend,” he said.

He cited an exchange between his brother Yunus and potential business partners who asked whether he was part of the Shaik family that has constantly been in the news. When Yunus confirmed this, the businessmen guffawed and said: “Ja, we can do business with you guys! You’ve got the balls of elephants!”

Mo laughed, clearly identifying himself with the description.

He said his brother was paying a heavy price for the fact that he (Mo) had introduced Zuma and Schabir.

The relationship had been formed in 1985 when he (Mo) sacrificed his family to allow MK cadre Ebrahim Ebrahim to escape — on Zuma’s instructions.

Ebrahim, on a mission to assess the internal and underground structures of the African National Congress, had been hiding in the Shaik’s Durban family home when police got wind of his presence and surrounded the house. The family was used as a decoy for Ebrahim to escape. The security police arrested Mo, his father Lambie Rasool, and his two brothers, Chippy and Yunus. They later tortured the two brothers.

At issue in the trial will be whether the Shaiks and Zuma should have distanced themselves from one another once the relationship began to pose a clear conflict of interests.

The prosecution is likely to argue that their “struggle” bond should have modified to meet the ethical demands of a normal country, once Schabir Shaik became a businessman and Zuma a politician of great influence.

Mo said he warned Zuma about his relationship with Schabir, suggesting that he distance himself from the latter after discovering that the two were becoming particularly close.

“I said to JZ: ‘He’s a dispensable asset’,” Zuma had retorted: “But how do you get rid of a friend you like? How do you regard yourself as a good man if you just dump a friend for no reason? Schabir helped me when I needed help. What is his crime? That he helped me?”

Mo said the two had become as close as blood relatives, with Schabir taking over the role of parent to the deputy president’s children.

Asked whether Zuma and Schabir would have acted differently if they could turn back the clock, Mo said: “In retrospect, we should have done things differently. We should have lived with the pain of not helping a friend. But that pain would have been better than what we are all suffering now … We should have asked him to seek help elsewhere, because otherwise it would be seen as a corrupt relationship.”

However, he made it clear that such a course of action could not have materialised because the relationship between Zuma and Schabir was too complex and intense to take a more rational path.

Mo Shaik said he did not know if the state was paying Zuma’s legal bills, but added that Schabir would struggle to pay for his defence. The entire episode had ruined Schabir financially and left him with personal problems. Nkobi Holdings, the company at the centre of a storm, was taking strain, with neither private corporations nor government departments willing to do business with it.

Zuma’s lawyers will be present throughout Schabir’s trial, keeping a watching brief. Although he has not been charged, he appears on “almost every second page of the charge sheet”, the Sunday Times reported last week.

Schabir’s key defence will be to challenge the allegation of a corrupt relationship with Zuma, while a secondary aim will be to expose the background and motives of state witnesses, including those of one of Schabir’s employees who left his employ in acrimonious circumstances.

The intention was to highlight the fact that the employee had left the company’s employ after bringing a sexual harassment charge against Schabir.

Mo also said he understood that the notorious fax in which French executive Alain Thetard allegedly promised a R500 000 annual bribe was no longer central to the case against Schabir.

While the Mail & Guardian interviewed Mo Shaik, his cellphone rang incessantly as friends and associates told him he had just been shown on television during a news broadcast.

He said there had been a groundswell of support and that several lawyers had offered to help with legal research without payment.

“There is a feeling among many South Africans that a terrible injustice is taking place and they want to assist. It seems the only enemy we have is the media. Our people identify with loyalty.”

Those close to the defence team questioned the appointment of an 80-year-old retired judge presiding over the case. Said one: “Whenever there is an attempt to protect Zuma’s name, the justice department brings out a retired apartheid-era judge.”

Judge Joos Hefer who had presided over the commission of inquiry was the other example cited.

Judge Vuka Shabalala, KwaZulu-Natal Judge President, said this week that Judge Hillary Squires was being brought out of retirement because the case would be a lengthy one and he did not want to delay the rest of the roll.

Asked why Zuma had failed to explain to South Africans what exactly had transpired between him and Shaik and the other parties implicated in the corruption scandal, Mo said it would have created a “bad precedent, where people would put out dirt about individuals to the public and force them to defend themselves”.

“I have never seen so much innocence embodied in one man,” sighed Mo, referring to Zuma. “It would have been best if he had been charged.” He said the deputy president had quipped that he would be better off returning to a quiet life at his Nkandla homestead where he could make a living running a fishing shop.

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Rapule Tabane
Guest Author

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