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Schabir Shaik’s parole paradise

Schabir Shaik stayed at the exclusive Zululand game lodge Thanda Private Game Reserve for three nights in June on a luxury safari junket, shortly after he was released from prison on medical parole, the Mail & Guardian has learned.

This would have been a clear violation of the fraud convict’s parole conditions. At the time Shaik was allowed to leave his house only between 10.30am and 12.30pm on Wednesdays to attend physiotherapy, to visit a mosque on Fridays, and to spend free time on Saturdays between noon and 4pm.

Quizzed on his stay at Thanda this week, Shaik refused to comment.

The revelation comes two weeks after Rapport caught Shaik in the act of violating his parole conditions. As a result, the department of correctional services tightened his parole, allowing him to leave his house only for two hours over the weekend and issuing him with a formal warning.

His parole officer was also changed, while medical checkups must be conducted at his home.

Three sources close to Thanda, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told the M&G that Shaik stayed at Thanda’s ‘royal suite” — a private villa — with his wife and a ‘small child” on June 13, 14 and 15 last year. He was released on medical parole in March.

They said during his stay he had no contact with anyone else, that staff were told to keep their distance and that his stay had to be completely confidential.

Thanda recently won the award for the World’s Leading Luxury Lodge. Exclusive use of its villa, where Shaik stayed, costs R47 500 a night. It is unclear who paid for the three-night junket. A source familiar with the details told the M&G ‘no money changed hands”, suggesting the stay was a gift.

The reserve is a regular haunt of senior politicians. The week before Shaik’s stay former KwaZulu-Natal law and order minister and now national police commissioner Bheki Cele had dinner there.

Thanda describes the suite as ‘1 000?square metres of sheer unadulterated luxury. It is equipped with a private boma, library, cellar, business room with internet connectivity, games room, heated swimming pool and a magnificent viewing deck that looks out over a water hole.”

The ‘magnificent lounge filled with attractive Afro-chic decor” is also equipped with a fireplace and a piano.

Thanda spokesperson Victoria Smith refused to confirm or deny a visit by Shaik.

‘Owing to the exclusive ethos of Thanda Private Game Reserve, the fact that it is a private and access-controlled environment, and our privacy policy obligations to our clients, regrettably I can neither confirm nor deny the allegations that you have put forward,” she said.

‘We would like the M&G to ­understand that we have hosted many local and international celebrities as well as prominent and occasionally controversial people, and as such, are in no position to divulge any details or information about any of the guests who have stayed with us. Our policy of strict guest confidentiality has always been observed.”

Businessman Shaik was sentenced to 15 years in prison after a corruption trial in the KwaZulu-Natal High Court in 2006. He was convicted on two counts of corruption, including solicitation of an arms deal bribe for Jacob Zuma.

But in a controversial move he was released on medical parole in March, allegedly because he was suffering from a ‘terminal illness”.

He has applied for a presidential pardon. A spokersperson confirmed this week that the presidency is wading through 300 applications for pardon, including those of Shaik and apartheid killer Eugene de Kock.

The Sunday Independent reported this month that Zuma might be considering granting a pardon to De Kock as a possible trade-off for ­releasing Shaik.

De Kock said Zuma had met him in secret at Pretoria Central Prison in April last year, but the presidency denies this.

Shaik lost a number of his parole privileges as a result of the Rapport article. The newspaper took photographs of him at a Durban shopping centre carrying bread and magazines, and he also paid a visit to residents of the luxury security estate, The Essenwoods, outside the hours when he is allowed out of his home. He was driving his own BMW X6.

The story broke after months of ‘Shaik spotting” in Durban, where the prisons department had called for formal proof of parole violations before it could take action.

Critics complained that the correctional services’ sanctions were mere tokens, and that Shaik should have been returned to prison.

Shaik also granted an interview to Rapport after he was caught red-handed. He said his health was improving as a result of rest and a concoction of goji berries.

‘I’m on goji berries now. Someone told me that with them I’ll make a miraculous recovery — I’m hoping my eyesight will improve,” he said.

He also became heated during the interview about the fact that he had not already been granted a presidential pardon. ‘Why should I even be asking for a pardon? If three people were part of a so-called plot to elicit funds from the French, why are the French free, why is the president free and why is Shaik still sitting as a convict?” he demanded.

He told Rapport: ‘I’m allowed to go and collect my pharmaceuticals from the chemist. I’m allowed to go and see the doctor. I’m allowed to go
to the bank. All I’ve got to do is inform my correctional officer, which I have done.

‘I’ve been seen playing golf at the country club and at the July handicap. I’ve never been to a July in my life. I don’t even like fucking racehorses. Then I’m seen running through the bushes at a shopping centre.”

Correctional Services Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said ‘further violations may result in a warrant of detention being issued, which could result in his re-incarceration”. She also said that his ‘behaviour will be monitored and may be reviewed after six months, in line with policy”.

Thanda’s well-connected owner
The owner of Zululand’s elite Thanda Private Game Reserve, self-made Swedish IT billionaire Dan Olofsson, is no stranger to controversy.

Olofsson invested in Thanda in 2002 after hunting expeditions during which he fell in love with the South African bush.

In 2006 the Swedish National Unit Against Corruption moved to prosecute him, a mayor of southern Swedish city Malmö, and a Swedish governor for corruption resulting from Thanda.

Olofsson allegedly provided all-expenses-paid trips for two Swedish officials to his new private game reserve for its opening in 2004. Olofsson had invited 31?close friends to the opening and had personally paid the group’s air fares to South Africa.

But a Swedish court cleared him and his co-accused of wrong-doing a few months later, finding that the trips to Thanda were not ­corrupt.

Olofsson has been investigated in connection with other alleged graft in Malmö, relating to the sale of computers.

His companies, Sigma, Epsilon and Teleca, are Malmö’s biggest employers. Olofsson entered the IT sector in 1986. The workforce of his three companies has grown to 6 000 and he has subsidiaries in 15 countries.

He is said to be close to King Goodwill Zwelithini and has invested in several philanthropic projects in the Thanda area, which falls under the authority
of the king.

Zwelithini and Olofsson were partners in the formation of the football club Thanda Royal Zulu. Olofsson bought Benoni Premier United football club in 2006 and moved it to Durban.

The Swede has also tried to cultivate a relationship with former president Nelson Mandela, in part by donating the statue of Mandela in Mandela Square in Sandton. He also gave Mandela a bronzed life-size statue of 1976 student uprising icon Hector Pieterson.

Olofsson had not responded to questions for comment by the time of going to print.

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Yolandi Groenewald
Yolandi Groenewald
Yolandi Groenewald is a South African environmental reporter, particularly experienced in the investigative field. After 10 years at the Mail & Guardian, she signed on with City Press in 2011. Her investigative environmental features have been recognised with numerous national journalism awards. Her coverage revolves around climate change politics, land reform, polluting mines, and environmental health. The world’s journey to find a deal to address climate change has shaped her career to a great degree. Yolandi attended her first climate change conference in Montreal in 2005. In the last decade, she has been present at seven of the COP’s, including the all-important COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009. South Africa’s own addiction to coal in the midst of these talks has featured prominently in her reports.

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