The blizzard of spin focusing on the alleged political conspiracy against Jacob Zuma has diverted attention from the facts of the case against him.
If he never faces trial, as now seems very likely, those facts constitute a powerful matrix of doubt about his conduct and judgment, which the president-in-waiting has consistently failed to counter. The evidence was led at Schabir Shaik’s trial and further set out in the most recent December 2007 charge sheet against Zuma and the French arms company Thint. It includes:
The Shaik payments
Zuma’s charge sheet discloses that between October 25 1995 and July 1 2005 Zuma or his family received 783 payments totalling R4 072 499,85 from Shaik or his companies.
The fact of these payments has never been seriously challenged. The fact of a long-term regular benefit flowing from Shaik to Zuma is incontrovertible. Were these payments corruptly received or did Zuma take them innocently, with no intent to use his influence to benefit Shaik?
A prosecution would be able to show Shaik had corrupt intentions. The highest courts have confirmed Judge Hilary Squires determination of Shaik’s guilt and the logic of Squires’ judgement weighs heavily on Zuma.
Squires noted: ‘Even if nothing was ever said between them to establish the mutually beneficial symbiosis that the evidence shows existed, the circumstances of the commencement and the sustained continuation thereafter of these payments, can only have generated a sense of obligation in the recipient.
‘If Zuma could not repay money, how else could he do so than by providing the help of his name and political office as and when it was asked for, particularly in the field of government contracted work, which is what Shaik was hoping to benefit from. And Shaik must have foreseen and, by inference, did foresee that if he made these payments, Zuma would respond in that way.â€
There is evidence that Zuma used his influence to assist Shaik in ways that would be difficult to divorce from the payments he received.
In a number of cases he personally met and interceded with Shaik’s prospective business partners to try to secure Shaik’s interests. The most significant was Zuma’s meetings in London and Durban with executives of French arms company Thomson CSF (now Thint), Shaik’s main business partner. Thomson became so concerned about whether Shaik was politically palatable to the ANC government that it excluded him from its South African arms deal project. After the meetings with Zuma the firm reinstated him.
In the mid-1990s the Point Waterfront project was seen as a surefire money-spinner, based on the lead given by Cape Town’s harbour precinct redevelopment.
The Malaysian company Renong assembled a bid and allocated a 49% black empowerment share, allegedly on the advice of senior ANC figures.
Shaik mounted a competing bid. In an affidavit obtained for the Shaik trial, Renong executive David Wilson said Shaik attempted to intimidate him into a joint bid, and when that failed, tried to use Zuma to muscle in on Renong’s empowerment allocation.
Shaik arranged a meeting with Zuma and Wilson at Shaik’s Durban apartment. According to Wilson, Zuma ‘was clearly uncomfortable … and I gained the clear impression from his demeanour, the substance of the meeting and the manner in which it proceeded that he was there under sufferance.
He spoke in a guarded fashion and appeared to be anxious to get the meeting over —
‘Throughout the discussion, Mr Schabir Shaik would introduce the topics discussed, whereupon Mr Zuma would confirm and expand upon what Mr Shaik had said. He said that he was not happy with the persons nominated to represent the empowerment interests in the Point Development, although he offered no explanation for this.
‘He proposed that Mr Schabir Shaik should be involved in the project and stressed repeatedly that he would be a good partner for the job. It became increasingly clear that Mr Jacob Zuma was acting as if Mr Schabir Shaik had some sort of hold over him.
‘At one point Mr Jacob Zuma made mention of the support and assistance he had received from Mr Schabir Shaik. I gained the strong impression that this support and assistance was of a financial nature.â€
The mercenary Mr Zuma
Other instances clearly show Zuma was not simply Shaik’s puppet.
Witnesses at the Shaik trial testified about Shaik’s recurring irritation how Zuma spent money without caring where it would come from. The most significant example was Zuma’s Nkandla homestead, built in 2000 — a luxury he could not afford. He contracted builder Eric Malengret at a price of R2,4-million (later reduced by R1-million), without consulting Shaik, his financial adviser.
When Shaik found out, Malengret had already completed construction worth R226 000 and received R140 000 in progress payments from other Zuma benefactors. According to Malegret’s evidence, Shaik expressed frustration with Zuma’s conduct and asked him if Zuma thought ‘money grew on treesâ€.
Shaik told Malengret, to stop constuction work — but Zuma countermanded this.
The R500 000
Payment for the Nkandla homestead was, according to the prosecution, bound up with the notorious ‘encrypted faxâ€ drawn up by Thomson CSF executive Alain Thetard.
The fax reflected Thetard’s report of his meeting with Shaik and Zuma in Durban in March 2000 — the month Zuma commissioned architects to design his homestead.
According to the fax, Shaik had indicated to Thetard that Zuma was requesting R500 000 a year in return for Zuma’s protection in the looming investigation of the arms deal — and his support for future Thomson projects.
Zuma denied the meeting to Parliament, while Shaik told his trial the meeting did happen, but was about a Thomson donation to the Jacob Zuma Education Trust.
The evidence was enough to convict Shaik.