Publication: Daily News Issued: Date: 2004-10-19 Reporter: Jeremy Gordin

Why PA Dumped Shaik



Daily News

Date 2004-10-19


Jeremy Gordin

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At the Schabir Shaik trial in the Durban High Court it was a day of poetry and petroleum jelly, a celebration of Vaseline and Virgil.

Shaik, on trial for corruption and fraud, may, according to Bianca Singh, his former personal assistant, have lived the high life - flying first class and buying expensive clothes for himself and deputy president Jacob Zuma whom, Shaik told her, had an unfortunate propensity for wearing "cheap" suits.

But Shaik, also according to Singh's evidence, had to pay a price for the good life.

Having promoted her from receptionist to PA, Singh said Shaik had told her she would have to be at his "beck and call" - just as he was in perpetual servitude to various "ministers" and high-level politicians. Being in this situation, he explained, was a pretty rough ride.

Having warned the court that she was about to use language not suitable for children, Singh said that he had said that he "has to carry a jar of Vaseline because he gets f****d all the time but that's okay because he gets what he wants and they get want they want".

Later, explaining why she had left his employ, Singh started to tell the story of "an incident of a personal nature" that allegedly took place one night in Shaik's bungalow at La Pirogue hotel on Mauritius.

The two had gone to the island to attend a meeting with Alain Thetard of the arms dealer and manufacturer, Thomson.

But no sooner had Singh begun to give evidence on this matter than Francois van Zyl SC, for Shaik, was on his feet asking what relevance the details could possibly have for the case on hand.

Judge Hilary Squires looked momentarily nonplussed. But he agreed, with Downer's acquiescence, that it was not necessary for Singh to tell all.

The hearts of all the journalists present may have been broken. But, for the first time yesterday, Singh and Shaik both looked relieved.

What did emerge from what Singh did tell, however, was that she left Shaik's bungalow in a hurry and refused to take his telephone calls - presumably leaving him alone.

The next morning Singh dumped the company documents at reception, flew out of Mauritius a day before she was due to do so, and never spoke to Shaik again.

Within two days she was in discussions with his lawyer. A confidentiality agreement was drawn up and she was soon in receipt of those monies still owed to her by Nkobi Holdings.

Singh told the court that in 1998 she had been in Shaik's office when he took a call on his cellphone from his brother Chippy, then head of arms acquisition in the defence department and a person playing a key role in the multi-billion rand arms procurement programme.

Shaik had told Chippy "not to worry" and he had immediately dialled another number and said, "Hello my brother, hello JZ" - Singh said Shaik was clearly talking to Jacob Zuma.

According to Singh, Shaik had then continued: "Chippy's under pressure and we really need your help to land this deal."

During a stern cross-examination by Van Zyl, Singh conceded that she had been mistaken about the date when this vital set of cellular phone calls took place.

Singh said she had apparently made a mistake and was no longer certain whether the calls had taken place sometime between mid-1998 and March 1999, as she had originally claimed, or in October 2000 when the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Accounts was deliberating on the arms deal.

Van Zyl also put it to her that Shaik never called Zuma "JZ" but only "my brother" or "chief". Singh said she had, on a number of occasions, heard Shaik call Zuma "JZ".

She also did not withdraw her allegation that the conversations had taken place.

Singh also testified that at the Mauritius meeting in November 2000 with Thetard and another man from arms dealer Thomson, Thetard had seemed surprised that she had been brought by Shaik, but Shaik said she was present to minute the meeting.

During the meeting, Shaik, pulling out a sheaf of newspaper cuttings about the arms deal investigations then in progress, had said that the men needed to discuss "damage control".

Singh said Shaik had told the meeting that if the Heath Special Investigating Unit went ahead - as was being mooted then by the government - and investigated the arms deal, "we'll be under pressure".

He also said, according to Singh, that "if a certain ANC person opens his mouth, we'll be in big trouble".

Singh said that because the person had "an African name", she had had trouble spelling it and had asked Shaik for help.

Shaik had said to her: "I hope you're not writing down all this stuff," and she was asked to leave the meeting. She said she could not remember the name of the man to whom Shaik had referred.

Earlier Judge Squires, who had apparently re-read the classics at the weekend, started by asking chief prosecutor Billy Downer if he wished to "amend" his translation of the first line of Virgil's epic poem, the Aeneid.

Last week Downer had put the line, translated as "I tell of arms and a man", but more usually rendered as "I sing of arms and the man", at the top of his Powerpoint presentation on the State's case against Shaik.

Downer, a former Rhodes scholar, said he did not.

Meanwhile, three independent broadcasters have lodged an urgent court application to broadcast audio material from the trial., Talk Radio 702 and their sister radio station 567 Cape Talk, yesterday brought an urgent joint application in the Durban High Court to broadcast the Shaik trial via an audio feed.

94.7 Highveld Stereo and Kfm are supporting the application.

The application will be heard on Tuesday next week.

With acknowledgements to Jeremy Gordin and the Daily News.