Odds are Stacked in Zuma's Favour at Trial
Deputy President Jacob Zuma's chances of becoming president will go on trial along with Schabir Shaik in the Durban high court tomorrow.
With no formal schooling, Zuma has risen steadily through the ranks of the ANC - a path fraught with perils which he has overcome - to become the "heir apparent" to President Thabo Mbeki.
That he is next in line to become president is an open secret and this corruption and fraud trial could prove to be the final hurdle before Zuma takes the throne : his political career is at stake.
The Hefer Commission inquiry last year into allegations by Zuma's camp that former prosecutions boss Bulelani Ngcuka had abused his office by charging that there was a prima facie case against Zuma, were arguably minor skirmishes ahead of the main battle starting this week.
While Zuma has not been charged an he has consistently denied any wrongdoing, his name is splattered throughout the indictment against Shaik, the deputy president's trusted comrade and latterly financial adviser.
The state's charge sheet alleges that Zuma received R1 340 078,01 from the accused, ie Shaik and his Nkobi group of companies.
The indictment says : "The payments to Zuma make no legitimate business sense, in that neither accused 1 [Shaik] nor the Nkobi group could afford the payments, being at all times in a cash-starved position relying on and at times exceeding bank overdrafts and this effectively borrowing money from banks at the prevailing interest rates to make the said payments interest free. On the other hand, the group's survival depended upon obtaining profitable new business, inter alia with the assistance of Zuma."
It goes on to detail Shaik's alleged relationship with Zuma : "Accused 1's apparent appointment as Zuma (sic) special adviser was not in terms of any regulations relating to such appointments, and accused 1 received no remuneration for apparently performing such an office. Accused 1 used the terms ‘special economic adviser', financial adviser', ‘personal adviser' and ‘special adviser' variously.
"He enjoyed full power of attorney in respect of Zuma's personal financial affairs and in respect of funding and managing them.
"He assisted Zuma in his official duties, advised on matters pertaining to the economy and policy, and assisted in ANC party matters."
While Zuma is not facing prosecution at the moment, the elite Scorpions investigative unit has not ruled out the possibility of either calling Zuma to testify in the trial or charging him at a later stage.
"We are not intending to call the deputy president as a witness, but this is a criminal matter so one cannot tell what the court may decide during the course of the trial," the Scorpions' spokesperson, Sipho Ngwema, said this week.
Implicit in this statement is a suggestion that Justice Hilary Squires - who will be presiding over the trial - could decide to call Zuma as a court witness.
"Section 186 of the Criminal Procedure Act empowers the judge at any stage of the trial to subpoena any person as a witness if the judge deems this ‘essential to the just decision of the case'," according to Professor Steve Tuson, a lecturer at the University of Witwatersrand's Law School.
"From my reading of the indictment and summary, it would seem that Mr Zuma's testimony may fall in this category," Tuson says.
Another possibility is that Zuma could be charged later.
But Zuma's bid for the presidency has long been in the making, and the ANC and the government made it clear again this week they will stand by him for as long as the allegations against the deputy president are not proved in a court of law.
Now 62, his history of the liberation movement spans five decades. Zuma has dedicated his life to the ANC and the struggle against apartheid.
In 1952, at the age of 17, he joined the ANC, and he became an active member of the organisation's armed wing, Umkhonto weSizwe, in 1962 after the National Party government's ban on the entire anti-apartheid movement. He served 10 years on Robben Island after his arrest in 1963 near Zeerust, in the then Western Transvaal, and his subsequent conviction on charges of conspiring to overthrow the government.
After his release, Zuma helped to resuscitate the ANC's underground structures and left the country in 1975 for 12 years in exile, rising through the ranks in exile to become one of the most influential, popular and influential people.
Now, in South Africa's 10th year of democracy, Jacob Zuma is deputy president and his future is on the line.
Political analyst Steven Friedman sums up the stakes : "Jacob Zuma is the heir apparent; he is and remains the front runner to succeed Thabo Mbeki as president.
"If he emerges from all of this without facing legal action or formal disciplinary action, then he will remain the front-runner," says Friedman, the director of the Centre for Policy Studies.
Friedman contests a widely held view that public pressures and perceptions resulting from evidence led during the trial could mean the end of Zuma's political career.
The odds, he argues, are in Zuma's favour since the ANC has never chosen a leader in open elections in its 93-year history : ANC leaders are traditionally chosen by a process of succession.
"He is the heir apparent - and that counts fro a great deal."
Zuma is also the beneficiary of a political process seen in many parts of the world, according to Freidman.
"The more he is subject to allegations the more people who support him come to the conclusion that he is being victimised.
"So if the courts are not going to take action against him and parliament is not, then he emerges as the front-runner, whatever the evidence." Come tomorrow morning, attention and camera lenses will be trained on the Durban high court.
It goes without saying that many of Zuma's supporters and detractors will be watching closely as the proceedings unfold. He may not be there in person, but there can be no doubt that Jacob Zuma's prospects of becoming president rest on the outcome of this historic trial.
With acknowledgements to Jeremy Michaels and the Sunday Independent.