Publication: The Star Issued: Date: 2004-10-19 Reporter: Jeremy Gordin

Poetry and Petroleum Oil Wheels of Justice



The Star

Date 2004-10-19


Jeremy Gordin

Web Link


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.

Judge Hilary Squires, who is presiding at the trial and apparently re-read the classics at the weekend, kicked off the morning by asking chief prosecutor Billy Downer SC if he wished to "amend" his translation of the first line of Virgil's epic poem, the Aeneid, "Arma virumque cano".

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 Power Point presentation on the state's case against Shaik.

Downer, a former Rhodes scholar, said he did not wish to make any amendments. After that, the proceedings left verse behind - or turned to a different kind of poetry.

Shaik, on trial for corruption and fraud, may often, 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, who, 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 personal assistant, Singh told the court, Shaik had explained to 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.

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

Later, explaining why she had finally 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 the La Pirogue hotel on Mauritius.

The two had gone to the island to attend a meeting with Alain Thetard of the arms manufacturer Thomson-CSF.

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 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 was that she left Shaik's bungalow in a hurry and refused to take his telephone calls.

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 money still owed to her by Nkobi Holdings, Shaik's company.

Whether this incident reminded him of Aeneas's treatment of Queen Dido in the Aeneid, the judge did not say.

But he did earlier ask the media to refrain from sensationalist reporting. This was after Downer complained about a report that appeared in The Sunday Tribune that made use of a confidential KPMG report and that "verged" on contravening the sub judice rule.

Unfortunately, however, noted the judge, he knew nothing about the report nor had he read the offending article.

With acknowledgements to Jeremy Gordin and The Star.