Publication: Business Day Issued: Date: 2004-10-04 Reporter: Peter Bruce

The Thick End of the Wedge

 

Publication 

Business Day

Date 2004-10-04

Reporter

Peter Bruce

Web Link

www.bday.co.za

 

There is something I can't quite put my finger on about the upcoming fraud trial of Schabir Shaik, former adviser and funder to Deputy President Jacob Zuma. Shaik goes on trial in Durban next week on fraud and corruption charge, almost all of which seem related somehow to Zuma.

This is the case left standing after the Scorpions famously decided last year that they has a prima facie case of corruption against Zuma, but didn't have enough to prosecute him.

The charge sheet lays out a series of payments made by Shaik to Zuma between October 1995 and September 2002. These totalled almost R1,2m. That's part of my problem. R1,2m over six years amounts to financial support of about R200 000 a year. It seems so, well, little.

Then there's the fact that I know all this because I read it yesterday in the Sunday Times. How come? How come a paper gets the charge sheet before the judge? Not that I blame the Sunday Times for publishing it; I would have, too. But making the charges available sounds a little too much like a media strategy for comfort.

It seems clear to me that the release of the charges is there to damage Zuma just in case the actual trial doesn't. While there seems no doubt that Zuma accepted money from Thales, the French arms company he alleged to have demanded R500 000 a year from. In fact, the charge sheet singularly fails to put Zuma in the company of any representative of Thales.

I hope Zuma is called to give evidence in the trial and that he does. We need to know who, or what, he is. We need to see the whites of his eyes. He is a really nice guy. But is he also a thief? Financially, he is clearly a clot. But is there not some comfort in a leader who might think a million rand is a lot of money?

I also wonder how many formerly exiled government officials in the last three governments would pass scrutiny of their finances since there return to SA. I am sure many have had their benefactors. How else would they have survived?

This is not to excuse Zuma his obvious indiscretions and his massive error of judgement in trusting someone like Shaik. And his efforts to pressure Parliament into dropping its investigation of the arms deal, and to exclude the Heath unit, can never be forgiven.

But seeing that the "debate" about who should succeed President Thabo Mbeki is now officially begun, do we exclude Zuma? What if we did, and his former wife, Nkosazana, got the job, with the assistance of the president? Mbeki rates her intellect highly, and if you take the characteristics being ascribed to a future president by the Gauteng ANC - intellectually superior, at home on the world stage etc. - they sound remarkably like the current foreign minister.

That's what this trial is about - who the next president is. So pay attention.

With acknowledgements to Peter Bruce and the Business Day.