Allegations of state capture against former president Jacob Zuma are part of a conspiracy spanning as far back as the early 1990s, the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture heard on Monday.
Zuma’s highly anticipated appearance before the commission — chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo — was kicked off with a more than an hour-long speech by the former president about a long-standing plan to remove him from power.
“Chair, you will realise that me as an individual, I have been a subject of talk in this country for more than a decade. I have been vilified, alleged to be the king of corrupt people,” he started, before outlining what he said was a conspiracy against him that he had first learned about in 1990.
He added that anything since then he has “been linking the dots” of “a huge plan” against him.
Zuma said in 1990 he received an intelligence report, which said there were three intelligence organisations – two from “big” foreign countries and one internal one – that had met to discuss me a plan to embark on a campaign of character assassination against him.
He said he had learnt that the organisations had sent spies to infiltrate the ANC and planning that they would move up in the party’s structures.
“There has been a drive to remove me from the scene, a wish that I should disappear … And it arises perhaps out of my work in the ANC and also because of who I am. This conspiracy against me has been stretched at all material times,” Zuma said.
Zuma linked the arms deal saga, the so-called spy tapes and the Nkandla scandal as all being part of the conspiracy against him.
“There was a plan to deal with Zuma, and Zuma has been dealt with all the time,” Zuma said.
He added that he did not want to discuss intelligence during his appearance at the commission, but that he has been “provoked and provoked to the last degree”.
Zuma also linked the commission — which he appointed in January 2018 following a recommendation by former public protector Thuli Madonsela’s ‘State of Capture’ report and a court order directing him to comply — to the plan to remove him from power.
In his opening remarks, Zondo noted Zuma’s previous complaints that he had been singled out by the commission, which he suggested in a letter sent to the commission in May had been designed to push a nefarious political agenda.
“It is important to emphasise that the evidence leaders are mandated to seek to establish what the facts are … and not to prove any allegations against anybody,” Zondo said, adding that the commission must treat all witnesses fairly.
But Zuma’s counsel, Muzi Sikhakhane SC said the team was concerned his client had been unfairly dealt with. Some of the commission’s witnesses have been treated as “sweethearts” and others as the “accused”, Sikhakhane said. The statement was received with applause by the members of the large audience inside the commission’s Parktown venue.
Zuma did not hold back from expressing his reservations about the commission. “This commission was from my understanding created to have me coming here to perhaps find things on me,” he said.
He added that the commission was designed “to be the grave of Zuma”. “He must be buried here,” Zuma said.