Revenge of the secretaries
It was the revenge of the secretaries at the Shaik trial this week.
Three personal assistants gave evidence implicating their former bosses, one in the case of Shaik and two in the case of Shaik’s alleged partner in corruption, Alain Thetard, then CEO of the local division of the French defence company Thales.
Bianca Singh, Shaik’s former PA, feared for her life. She said in an affidavit made after her first interview with the Scorpions in July 2001: “I am scared and believe that I have reason to fear Mr Schaik [sic]. I have heard him say that he will not let anyone break down his empire and he would just eliminate or just get rid of them.”
Susan Delique, who worked for Thetard for only three months at the beginning of 2000 before resigning, said she feared for her safety when she resigned and had virtually fled the office.
Thetard’s former PA, Marion Marais, who resigned after 13 months, testified that Thetard was arrogant, volatile and, on occasion, threw things at her, including keys.
She said she took the precaution of asking the company driver to stay behind in the office when she tendered her resignation at the end of 1999.
“I was nervous… he had a very strong temper,” she testified.
The identities of all three were kept secret by the state prior to their appearance and at court they were escorted by bodyguards.
Fuelled by an attitude of ill-concealed chauvinism, Shaik’s camp view the women as pathetic pawns in a political conspiracy to destroy Shaik and, through him, Deputy President Jacob Zuma.
The claims that Delique lost and then found Thetard’s crucial hand-written note implicating Shaik, Zuma and Thetard in soliciting a bribe were met with looks of disbelief and disgust.
The same reaction greeted the news that, shortly before the trial, she found her original computer disk, on which she had allegedly typed out the note for faxing to Thetard’s superiors.
This attitude ignores inconvenient facts. Delique’s claim that she possessed the note was made to Thales auditors just days after her resignation. Shaik’ss advocate, Franscois van Zyl, adjourned his cross-examination of her so that he could consult his own technical expert on the authenticity of the disk and then never raised the matter again when he resumed.
Quote of the week went to Singh, who, after apologising in advance to Judge Hillary Squires, said Shaik told her she would have to be at his beck and call, the way he was with various government ministers. He then described his relationship with the ministers: “He said he has to carry a jar of Vaseline because he gets fucked all the time, but that’s OK because he gets what he wants and they get what they want.”
Van Zyl said Shaik would deny saying “he gets what he wants and they get what they want”, but he did not dispute the first part of the sentence.
Singh remembered crucial things, such as an alleged phone call between Shaik and Zuma, during which Shaik allegedly said “Chippy’s under pressure”, referring to his brother who, at the time, was heading the arms deal acquisition process, and followed up by allegedly saying to Zuma: “We really need your help to land this deal.”
But in other areas she was vague.
Shaik has admitted most of the payments to Zuma. The key challenge for the prosecution will be to prove the payments were made to corrupt Zuma, and did, in fact, do so.
In that they are not helped by the absence of two parties to the alleged corrupt relationship: Thales and Zuma himself.
Evidence relevant to proving the way in which the alleged corruption was perpetrated, is starting to stumble against court rules that restrict evidence to matters directly relevant to the accused.
Witnesses to Zuma’s alleged lobbying and interventions to promote Shaik’s business are also crucial, but they are mostly foreign company representatives, based outside South Africa. There are precious few of them on the witness list.