In court, Zuma will face all the ghosts of deals past


There was a time when former president Jacob Zuma had descended so deep in debt that criminals were left to even pay his ANC membership. Zuma depended on friends to foot his bills while he continued his rise through the ANC and government. For these friends, this was an investment from which they would continue to reap rewards in the years to come.

Zuma’s inability to manage his finances would cultivate an environment in which wealthy businesspeople benefitted from his stature in the ANC. It would come to be the framework of state capture. But ultimately it was Zuma’s ambition, his meteoric rise through the ANC, that would thwart efforts to bring him to book. Zuma was able to shrug off several charges of corruption and fraud on his way to becoming president of South Africa.

This, even though his financial adviser went to jail for bribing him.

READ MORE: Now it’s up to the justice system, says ANC

Those charges, however, have never really gone away, as a protracted battle in the courts finally forced the National Prosecuting Authority to reinstate those charges. The leader of the Democratic Alliance, Mmusi Maimane, has said it is a victory for South Africa. It is though quite a victory too for the DA who have not surrendered the battle to have the charges against Zuma reinstated. And it comes at an opportune moment for the DA who, days away from an elective congress, appear bereft without Zuma.

It is of the ANC, however, that Zuma, until very recently, was a vaunted leader.

Just weeks after he was forced to vacate the presidency, with the net closing on the Gupta family and his son Duduzane, Zuma the elder must now also confront the ghosts of his past. He must confront how his rise in the ANC was assured by a merry band of criminals posing as well-intentioned business people.

The decision of National Director of Public Prosecutions Shaun Abrahams to reinstate 16 of the 18 charges against the former president, relating to fraud, corruption and racketeering, all related to the multibillion-rand arms deal, will now train eyes on the Pietermaritzburg High Court. Here, one of the earliest iterations of state capture in a democratic South Africa will be re-examined, forcing a coterie of politicians, local business people, and multinationals back together again.

It will bring into focus again Zuma’s inability to manage his own finances.

His finances were laid bare during the trial of Schabir Shaik, where a forensic accounting report showed the former president had suffered financial difficulties from as early as 1995.

In total, payments made to Zuma by Shaik and his Nkobi group amounted to just over R4-million. At the time the payments were made, several banks were knocking at Zuma’s door for late payments. Shaik and Nkobi ended up paying for Zuma’s home loans, rent, vehicle repayments, travel, school and university fees.

Payments for clothing were captured as “CassanovaJZ”, according to the initial charge sheet in 2005.

Zuma’s outstanding ANC levies of R21 000 were also paid by Shaik.

In exchange, the state alleged that Zuma personally facilitated meetings for Shaik and his Nkobi group, where Zuma also had a secret shareholding.

Nkobi would eventually conclude a joint venture agreement with Thomson in the German Frigate Consortium who would successfully bid for a multibillion-rand contract as part of the arms deal in 1998.

Perhaps the most incriminating piece of evidence to emerge thus far was a fax sent by Thomson director Alain Thetard that spells out at least one aspect of what was expected of Zuma. It clearly sets out that the former president would protect those involved in the joint venture from any investigation. In exchange Zuma would receive R500 000 per year.

Professing innocence all along, Zuma has continually asked for his day in court. He’s now about to get it. Finally. 

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Beauregard Tromp
Guest Author
Khadija Patel
Khadija Patel pushes words on street corners. She is the editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian, a co-founder of the The Daily Vox and vice chairperson of the Vienna-based International Press Institute (IPI). As a journalist she has produced work for Sky News, Al Jazeera, The Guardian, Quartz, City Press and the Daily Maverick, among others. She is also a research associate at WISER (Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Witwatersrand) and has previously worked in community media. In 2017, she was among 11 people from across Africa and the diaspora who were awarded the inaugural Africa #NoFilter fellowship from the Ford Foundation and in 2018, she was awarded honorary membership of the Golden Key Society. She is passionate about the protection and enhancement of global media as a public good.

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