Schabir's gambit

It was a spectacular gotcha moment: media24 journalist Julian Rademeyer caught Schabir Shaik in full and flagrant defiance of his parole conditions and of political decency.

Linguistic decency came under assault too as the president’s sometime financial adviser let rip a string of expletives and scatological references utterly in keeping with the image we formed of him during his corruption trial.

But was it the press that caught Shaik, a much-expanded belly belying any efforts at dieting his blood pressure down, or did the symbiotic one catch both his critics and his presidential patron in a much more cunning trap?

Letting him out of jail must have seemed politically expedient at the time, but it was clearly a colossal blunder.

The Shaik family is under nobody’s control, least of all Jacob Zuma’s, and for Schabir being allowed out of a prison hospital to live a life of discreet luxury under tight parole conditions was never going to be enough.

Shaik frets at his “house arrest”. He believes he is innocent and entitled to play golf, eat pizza and conduct business across the length and breadth of Durban like any other crony capitalist.

As he pointed out at the weekend, Zuma is in the Union Buildings, Thint executives are in their Paris apartments and Thabo Mbeki is shuttling around Sudan doing a Tony Blair on his legacy. Why should he suffer alone?

The fact is that it suits Shaik to be caught out. A man who drives a BMW X6, with its high-riding position and vulgar, bulging sheetmetal, wants to be noticed.

The trouble is that up to now he has not been noticed enough. Word-of-mouth reports from the golf course, the shopping mall and (in the Mail & Guardian‘s case) midnight stops at the garage shop weren’t hard enough evidence to force the hand of Zuma or his prisons minister, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula.

But now we have date-stamped photographs and a defiant interview. Something’s got to give.

Clearly Shaik believes he can’t be sent back to jail. And he is almost certainly right. Just as clearly, his brazen public appearances are an ongoing embarrassment to Mapisa-Nqakula and to Zuma; they cannot continue.

There is one clear way out: a presidential pardon. An innocent man may drive where he likes, eat where he likes and form new business links with whomever he likes.

What Sunday’s scoop did was to ratchet up the pressure on Zuma to stop dithering and deliver the pardon. All of Shaik’s critics in the press, and the opposition, are effectively helping to turn the screws on his old friend.

For Zuma, of course, the challenge is to accede while limiting the fallout.

His staff on Tuesday hinted at how he might do this, pointing out that Shaik’s pardon application was on the president’s desk, with that of Eugene de Kock and others.

The “disciplinary” measures announced by Mapisa-Nqakula look awfully like a holding action to certain embarrassment.

It would be just like Zuma to try to even the scorecard and deflect criticism by offsetting a pardon for Shaik with absolution for someone from “the other side”. Let us hope he chooses someone other than Prime Evil to effect this balancing act. Justice has been tortured enough without having to manage that weight on her scales.

Screws tighten
It was a shopping trip that cost Schabir Shaik much more than the price of two milk cartons.

Correctional Services Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula announced that Shaik’s parole conditions had been severely restricted after he was caught breaking the rules on camera.

City Press and Rapport snapped Shaik leaving his Durban mansion to buy milk at his local grocer last week. He confirmed to senior prison management that he had violated his parole conditions and admitted the correctness of the weekend reports.

Mapisa-Nqakula imposed the following sanctions:

  • Shaik will no longer be allowed to visit his doctor’s rooms and will receive medical assistance at home or at a place determined by his parole officer;

  • His free time has been reduced from six to two hours a week, excluding his weekly visit to mosque on a Friday;

  • Further violations “may result in a warrant of detention being issued, which could result in his re-incarceration”; and

  • Shaik’s parole officer was removed from the case and a senior official will now monitor his movements.

The punitive measures taken against Shaik “are not a pronouncement” on his health, but “purely deal with clear violations of parole conditions”.—Adriaan Basson

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