Publication: Mail and Guardian Issued: Date: 2004-10-14 Reporter: Sapa Reporter: Ben Maclennan

Shaik 'Boasted of Links with Zuma'



Mail and Guardian

Date 2004-10-14


Sapa, Ben Maclennan 

Web Link


Corruption accused Schabir Shaik repeatedly boasted of his "political connectivity" with Deputy President Jacob Zuma in discussions with potential business partners, the Durban High Court was told on Thursday.

Professor Themba Sono, a former business associate of Shaik's, also said Shaik would keep his "nice big cellphone" switched on during these business meetings, saying he was expecting important calls from Zuma.

Sono is the first person on the state's list of more than 100 witnesses to be called in Shaik's trial on charges of corruption and fraud.

Sono, who is currently the deputy president of Patricia de Lille's Independent Democrats, said that in early 1996 he accepted a position as an executive director of Shaik's Nkobi Holdings, a position that he took on full-time from October that year.

Shaik had explained that he wanted to place strategically Nkobi for a variety of contracts, "particularly in the government arena".

These would range from toll gates and road construction to housing, information technology and especially the electronic component of the corvette programme.

Sono told the court that Nkobi, however, had cash problems and that when Christmas salary cheques for company employees bounced at the end of the year, he loaned Shaik R75 000 from his savings to cover the amounts.

Asked by lead prosecutor Billy Downer what resources Nkobi did have, he said "it had nothing really".

It became a source of heated debate at a meeting with arms manufacturer Denel, which was to go into a joint venture for new, plastic-card bar-coded driver's licences with Nkobi and French arms manufacturer Thomson.

"Denel was questioning why Nkobi should not pay when Denel and Thomson were paying. Yes, we didn't have any money."

However, Shaik was "brilliant" in responding.

"He says we are bringing a lot of goodwill here, we are an empowerment company. This is the new South Africa. If we are going to open doors you must regard our goodwill in monetary value," said Sono.

Shaik had repeatedly boasted of Nkobi's "political connectivity" in government.

"There are names that always cropped up. Two of the names that always cropped up were Jacob Zuma and Mac Maharaj."

Asked by Downer over what period Zuma's name was mentioned, Sono said this was right from when he joined the group.

"He asked me, 'You know president [Nelson] Mandela is to retire soon, and deputy president [Thabo] Mbeki would become the president, and minister Zuma would be the deputy president?'. And he says, 'What do you think if I become a director general in deputy president Zuma's place?'."

Sono said he told Shaik he was the wrong guy for such a job because he woke up only at 11am and then worked until the small hours of the morning.

Asked by Downer what he expected to get out of his relationship with Nkobi Holdings, Sono replied: "In monetary terms? I did expect initially really to be rich, but it is Mr Schabir Shaik who triggered my interest when he said, 'I am going to make you a millionaire'.

"I said 'ja, ja [yes, yes]'," Sono said to laughter in the court.

Sono told the court that it was the "non sunny side" Shaik's personality that made him resign at Nkobi Holdings.

Sono said he took exception to the "boorish and autocratic manner" with which Shaik treated some of his colleagues.

He said Shaik had two personalities - the "sunny side" and the other "non sunny side".

He said the "non sunny side" of Shaik was what finally triggered him to write his resignation letter as director of Nkobi Holdings.

Sono said a standing issue between them was that Shaik continuously flouted big political names.

A few days before he wrote his letter, Shaik called him and said he had to come to work because they were working on a project. He said he found Shaik's tone unacceptable.

Sono said Shaik told him: "Listen here my friend, your blackness means nothing to me".

He also said: "Your connection to [former president Nelson] Mandela and {President Thabo} Mbeki means nothing in this company."

He said Shaik also attacked his qualifications and his relationship with top politicians.

Sono read extracts from the resignation letter in court and in it he told Shaik that "now my friend your statement is sheer meanness of spirit".

He also questioned why Shaik used his blackness and said in quotes "my blackness like my eyes are God-given". He added that he had earned his PhD like he had earned his salary.

Sono said he left the group and Shaik called to apologise but he did not return to Nkobi Holdings.

Sono told the court "with my skin colour and politics I am not for rent".

During the tea break Sono, who is diabetic, was treated by a doctor after his sugar level rocketed.

The court was adjourned earlier than usual for lunch at the request of Shaik's legal team who said they needed to hold a brief discussion with their client.

Sono is currently a member of the Gauteng legislature for the ID.

Earlier, he told the court that he had had been a political activist on and off from the 1950s and had met Shaik through a meeting arranged by an economics department colleague at the University of Witwatersrand.

Sono holds four degrees.

With acknowledgements to Ben Maclennan, Sapa and the Mail & Guardian.