Stage is Set for Act Two of 'Hamlet'
Estelle Ellis, Jeremy Gordin
Durban - The stage is set for the second act of Hamlet - without the prince. Act one was played out in Bloemfontein last year when Deputy President Jacob Zuma was the missing witness in the Hefer Commission inquiry.
That inquiry had been set up to probe allegations that the former director of public prosecutions, Bulelani Ngcuka, was an apartheid-era spy. These allegations had been made by Mo Shaik, who admitted under cross examination that he was "carrying a flag" for Zuma.
Now Act Two is about to begin at the Shabir Shaik fraud and corruption trial in Durban. Once again, Zuma is the missing witness - conspicuously missing from the list of 105 people the prosecution will call - but glaringly present in the allegations contained in the charge sheet.
"It is not our intention to call the deputy president," Sipho Ngwema, a spokesperson for the National Prosecuting Authority, said. "But you never know."
Shaik's attorney, Reeves Parsee, was unavailable for comment on Tuesday. However, sources close to Shaik's legal team said that it was "inconceivable the state would call Zuma in a thousand years - because he would destroy its case in a second".
The same source said that the Shaik team would call Zuma "if necessary".
"He is mindful of how important this case is. But we are also aware of, and extremely sensitive about, the innuendo that was put out by Bulelani Ngcuka at his infamous briefing to editors in 2003, in which he claimed that a group of Indians was taking advantage of the poor deputy president. So, we will carefully consider everything we do."
Zuma had always maintained his innocence on the corruption charges. This became more and more difficult to do when the rumours about him were turned into a full-fledged Scorpions investigation.
Then came the statement by Ngcuka and then Minister of Justice Penuel Maduna that a prima facie case existed against Zuma, but that Ngcuka had declined to prosecute. Ngcuka said the decision had been taken, despite a recommendation by his investigating team.
Instead, Shaik, known to be Zuma's financial adviser, was charged with corruption, fraud, theft of company assets, tax evasion and reckless trading.
Shaik's charge sheet alleged that Zuma had received a bribe from the French arms company Thomson-CSF/Thales (Thint) and hinted at a "general corrupt relationship" between Shaik and Zuma.
Curiously, in the draft charge sheet there was a reference to an "Accused Number 3", who was never named or mentioned again.
The only real chance Zuma was given to publicly refute any allegations was to answer some of the questions sent to him by the Scorpions (and leaked to the media).
His answers were drafted by advocate Kessie Naidu who would later lead evidence at the Hefer Commission.
Zuma then lodged a court application for access to the original encrypted fax - alleged to be the main piece of evidence that he was offered a bribe.
The Pretoria High Court ordered that Zuma receive full access to the handwritten, encrypted fax in which Alain Thetard of the French company Thales allegedly stated that he had had a meeting with Zuma and Shaik in Durban in 2000.
Then followed the Hefer Commission, and although Zuma offered to give evidence, the ANC said that it did not wish him to do so, and Judge Joos Hefer declined to subpoena him.
In May of this year, the public protector recommended that action be taken against Ngcuka for "abusing his powers" during the Zuma investigation. Parliament returned a neutral verdict on the issue.
It seems that Zuma will have more lawyers than anybody else at the trial. His four-person legal team has been briefed to keep watch over proceedings.
What is not known is how Zuma, alleged to be permanently cash strapped, will pay for his band of legal emissaries.
"I guess he will have to beg and borrow... all over again. What choice does he have?" said a source close to Zuma.
"I intend to take this matter further," Zuma has reportedly said many times.
At this point, what he lacks is the stage on which to do so.
With acknowledgements to Estelle Ellis, Jeremy Gordin and The Mercury.