Zuma’s shady friends

African National Congress (ANC) deputy president Jacob Zuma has been on an international mission, addressing investors across the world, some of whom have been worried about what would happen to the South African economy should he take over as president. However, some of those who arranged the meetings with investors are themselves colourful and controversial characters. We profile two: George Friedman and Paul Ekon.

George Friedman

American intelligence analyst George Friedman recently hosted and facilitated ANC deputy president Jacob Zuma’s visit to the United States to meet senior American businessmen.

Friedman is the CEO of Strategic Forecasting Incorporated, or Stratfor, as it is more commonly known, which he founded in 1996.

Stratfor is an American intelligence company that is said to have been influential in shaping American foreign policy post-9/11.

Stratfor, which lists the CIA as one of its clients, conducts work for multi­national corporations, government spy agencies and private investors.

Friedman studied political science at the City College of New York and then accepted a teaching post at Dickinson College in 1974, where he taught for almost 20 years.

In 1994 Friedman founded the Centre for Geopolitical Studies at Louisiana State University, which conducted integrated economic, political and military modelling and forecasting.

Friedman describes himself as a conservative Republican.

Stratfor released a statement earlier this week confirming it had facilitated Zuma’s trip. “Mr Zuma spent several days in Austin, Texas, in private meetings with senior US leaders of global business, investment and education,” said the statement.

Friedman said he was “tremendously impressed” with Zuma, who he described as a “very gracious man. I learned a great deal from him about South Africa and about leadership,” said Friedman.

Paul Ekon

Flamboyant multi-millionaire Paul Ekon, who recently hosted Zuma during his meetings with United Kingdom business leaders, has a chequered past.

Ekon (48) is said to have developed contacts within the ANC after the organisation was unbanned in 1990, which continued until he left the country in the mid-1990s amid speculation that he was under police scrutiny for his alleged involvement in the smuggling of a R4,8-million consignment of unwrought gold.

The police had linked the consignment, which was seized at Johannesburg International Airport in June 1995, to a syndicate, which they said had smuggled more than five tons of gold to Europe and Britain.

Ekon first rose to public attention when former ANC MP Bantu Holomisa alleged that hotel magnate Sol Kerzner had paid for Thabo Mbeki’s 50th birthday party in 1992.

Ekon claimed that it was he who had paid for the party, which was hosted at his Houghton home, along with co-sponsors Yusuf Surtee and Charles Priebatsch.

Ekon is also said to have provided ANC officials with cellular phones and handguns. He joined Johannesburg’s fast set when he inherited a large amount of money from his mother, some time around 1986.

He ran a number of businesses, including a restaurant in Rosebank called the Hot Tin Roof, and a cosmetics outlet in Hyde Park called Accent, which he used to market Anneline Kriel’s perfume range.

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