Agenda to 'Destroy Zuma Profile'
Deputy President Jacob Zuma, who was let off the hook by the Scorpions after they decided not to prosecute him on allegations of receiving a R500 000 bribe from one of the bidders in the multimillion rand arms deal, found himself at the centre of a political storm this week after his finances were laid open in the charge sheet of his financial adviser Schabir Shaik. Political editor Jimmy Seepe spoke to ANC secretary-general Kgalema Motlanthe, who provided a political assessment of the ANC's position on the matter and why Zuma's standing in the movement is unshaken.
After a week of high political drama for the country's deputy president, Jacob Zuma, accused of impropriety and benefiting from the company that won some of the arms deal secondary contracts, ANC secretary-general Kgalema Motlanthe has broken his silence, suggesting that the whole saga is aimed at destroying the political standing of Zuma.
Motlanthe, who spoke to City Press at the party's headquarters on Friday, suggested that the aim of what others have characterised as "Zuma-gate" is to destroy the party's deputy president politically.
His comments follow allegations against Zuma that the deputy president was not in control of his finances and that he was running a huge financial debt and had to be bailed out each time by his financial adviser, Schabir Shaik.
The state alleged that Shaik paid Zuma nearly R1,2 million between 1995 and last year, and took elaborate steps to hide the origin of most of the payments. The Zuma saga has seen the ANC throwing its comradely support behind him, putting paid to the wishes of those who have read the seriousness of the charges against Schabir Shaik - in which Zuma is intricately implicated - that the death-knell for Zuma's political career has been sounded.
Motlanthe suggested that the political agenda around Zuma is not premised on charging and convicting him but at casting serious doubt around his profile, hoping that this will destroy him in the eyes of those who want to believe in the plot. "I'm convinced that there is an attempt to destroy Zuma's political standing. It is not about corruption. The fact that the man is poor and running an overdraft would not compel us to abandon him."
His comments come at a time when serious allegations about Zuma's personal finances have been laid bare to the public, suggesting that the deputy president lived beyond his means. Opposition parties, as expected, reacted with shock to the allegations against Zuma, contained in a charge sheet against Shaik.
To many who have followed the process, there was no doubt that the noose was tightening around the deputy president, but with some predicting that the ANC would, as a matter of principle, rally around its beleaguered leader.
They pointed out that the organisation had taken the same position in keeping mum with regard to Tony Yengeni, until it was faced with damning evidence and a clear prospect of conviction. Its change of heart led to speculation in political circles that Yengeni was a fall guy.
But Motlanthe was unfazed by suggestions that what the country was witnessing is the long-standing tradition of the organisation rallying around a beleaguered leader. He also scoffed at suggestions that the support given to Zuma following the seriousness of the charges against Shaik sounded the death-knell for Zuma's political career.
With elections around the corner, there have also been intimations that this will do damage to the ANC's election campaign. Even this view is misguided, as the ANC has weathered far greater storms in the past.
But Motlanthe was convinced that "no matter who and how long they investigate Zuma, they would not come up with anything. What is painted out there in the public is that Zuma's finances are chaotic and that he cannot manage his own financial affairs.
"They are going this route of digging up his finances around his house, children and car because, on hard evidence, they cannot convict Zuma. At the same time they don't want to go to court to afford him the opportunity to be cleared.
"They don't want that, but (want) that he should remain with this doubt hanging over him. By the time this matter is closed, they want a situation where nobody is left with any doubt about his incapacity to lead. That is the objective."
Motlanthe defended Zuma's integrity against inferences that he might have used his influence to protect one of the French companies that won the tender in the lucrative arms deal, by suggesting that he was nowhere near the awarding of the arms contract when it was concluded.
"My point here is that if these [current allegations] have got something to do with suggestions or allegations of corruption emanating from the secondary arms deal, let that connection be made. The Scorpions must state openly whether he received a sweetener and influenced or rendered service to those who paid the bribe.
"The primary contract which was negotiated by government is not tainted by any accusation of corruption. Zuma was not part of the negotiations that led to the signing of the primary contract by government . He was an MEC at the time.
"What is at issue here is the issue surrounding companies that were involved in the secondary contracts. You need to look at some of the companies that lost in the secondary contracts. If there was corruption, it must be linked to the decision of the awarding of the primary contract."
Motlanthe maintained that the deputy president was nowhere near the awarding of the primary contracts of the arms deal.
He suggested that the first interaction he had in the whole process after the awarding of the contract was when he wrote a letter to the standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) when questions were being raised as to why the Heath special investigation unit was not part of the three-member team involving the Public Protector, the Office of the Auditor-General and the National Directorate of Public Prosecutions.
He pointed out that when Zuma wrote the letter, he was questioning the logic coming from certain individuals within Scopa, who were calling on the inclusion of Heath when competent institutions were already tasked to probe the matter. "Suggestions that Zuma wrote that letter in order to protect French companies are ridiculous. He wrote the letter in his capacity as head of government business. It is sheer speculation to suggest that he wrote the letter as part of the services he was supposed to render, as part of the R500 000 pay-off. "
What Motlanthe refers to is a coded, handwritten fax in French contained in the charge sheet against Shaik, which is at the centre of the allegations of bribery against Zuma. Many have suggested that the coded fax may hold the key to making a direct connection between the deputy president and irregularities during the government's arms acquisition process.
The fax described a secret meeting in Durban on March 11, 2000, allegedly attended by Zuma, Shaik and Alain Thetart of arms company Thomson CSF. The fax was sent by Thetart to a colleague at Thomson CSF in France.
Motlanthe suggests that when Zuma wrote the letter, he was not acting on behalf of any of the French companies. "The point here is that Zuma was not involved in any negotiations with regard to the arms deal transaction involving both the primary and secondary contracts. He would not have had any influence in the awarding of the contracts or even to protect anyone."
Motlanthe weighed in with his support of Shaik's relationship with Zuma, saying it goes way back, long before the unbanning of the organisations. He claims that some of the Shaik brothers were instrumental in Zuma's machinery as part of Operation Vula in the underground structures. Both Shaik and Zuma have developed a relationship of trust, he says.
He says the encrypted note that was written to one of the French companies was written by a local representative of the French company. "The Scorpions have investigated this matter. They have been to France and interviewed people, but they can't link it to Zuma."
Motlanthe suggested that the Scorpions could be unwittingly assisting in the efforts of one of the losing companies to discredit the whole process of the arms deal acquisitions.
"The reason that the Scorpions are hot on the heels of Schabir Shaik is that one company that lost the contract belongs to Richard Young. He has since lodged a case in the courts following his loss on the bid. According to the ANC, the source of the allegations surrounding the deputy president lies in Richard Young." *
Motlanthe was emphatic about who he sees as the real source of the current saga, saying it is Richard Young. *
Motlanthe maintained that those who thought they will discredit Zuma in the eyes of ANC members might have to try other tricks. He said ANC members are not stupid and would not fall for this.
As the saga continues to unwind, it remains to be seen whether "Zuma-gate" will seriously affect Zuma or the ANC in the forthcoming elections. But as Shaik prepares for his court appearance in the coming months, the public might not have heard the last of the Zuma-Shaik relationship.
* I deny that I am the source of the
allegations surrounding the deputy president or the real source of the current
With acknowledgements to Jimmy Seepe and the City Press.
The 'Real Source' of the Current Saga
30 August 2003
"'According to the ANC, the source of the allegations surrounding the deputy president lies in Richard Young.'
Motlanthe was emphatic about who he sees as the real source of the current saga, saying it is Richard Young."