Publication: Business Day Issued: Date: 2004-10-15 Reporter: Nicola Jenvey Reporter: Tim Cohen

Empowerment, Politics in the Dock at Shaik Trial



Business Day

Date 2004-10-15


Nicola Jenvey, Tim Cohen

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The subtle difference between "political connectivity" and economic empowerment was the focus of testimony on the second day of the Schabir Shaik corruption trial, with a former colleague claiming yesterday that the accused repeatedly boasted of his political connection to Deputy President Jacob Zuma.

Prof Themba Sono, currently deputy president of the Independent Democrats, was the first person on a long list of state witnesses to be called to testify.

For a short time in 1996 Sono was the executive director of Durban businessman Shaik's Nkobi Holdings. However, the relationship ended in acrimony early the following year.

According to Sono, Shaik knew three years before Zuma assumed the deputy presidency that his friend was destined for the second highest position in the land.

Shaik apparently even speculated about taking Zuma's position once he had moved on.

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

Asked by the leader of the prosecution team, Billy Downer, over what period Zuma's name was mentioned , Sono said right from when he joined Nkobi.

"He asked me: You know President (Nelson) Mandela is to retire soon, and Deputy President (Thabo) Mbeki will become the president and minister Zuma the deputy president.' And he says: What do you think if I become a director-general in Deputy President Zuma's place (office )?'"

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

Asked by Downer what he expected to get out of his relationship with Nkobi, Sono replied: "In monetary terms? I didn't 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'," Sono said to laughter in the court.

Sono said Shaik used to leave his "nice big cell phone" on during business meetings, saying that he "was expecting an important call from minister Zuma at any time".

As an empowerment company with strong political connections, Nkobi Holdings would bid for public-sector contracts including the plastic credit card-style drivers' licences; the electronic components contract for the South African navy's corvette upgrade and a host of other businesses in the transport, housing, information technology and construction sectors.

Sono said Nkobi traded on its empowerment scorecard to secure contracts and joint venture partnerships, rather than focusing on gaining financial muscle.

"Partners must consider Nkobi's goodwill and political connectivity as a monetary value," he said.

Under cross examination, Sono was asked by Shaik's legal representative, Francois van Zyl, about the difference between black economic empowerment and political connectivity, prompting Sono to call Shaik a "political entrepreneur".

He was "the king of that hill", Sono said.

"What hill?" asked Judge Hillary Squires.

"The hill of negotiating benefits," replied Sono.

However, less than a year after Sono's appointment as Nkobi executive director, personality differences between himself and Shaik triggered his resignation.

Shaik's flaunting of political influence was a constant bugbear between the men, while Sono "took exception to (Shaik's) boorish and autocratic manner" with which he treated employees and associates.

In his resignation letter, which Sono read in court, he wrote that Shaik had told him: "Your blackness means nothing to me. Your connection to ( Nelson) Mandela and ( Thabo) Mbeki means nothing in this company."

Sono said that this letter demonstrated Shaik's "sheer meanness of spirit".

On Wednesday, Shaik admitted he had bankrolled Zuma between 1996 and 2002 .

With acknowledgements to Nicola Jenvey, Tim Cohen and the Business Day.