Zuma's Shadow Dominate Shaik Trial
The trial of Schabir Shaik that is scheduled to begin in the Durban High Court tomorrow is unimportant in itself.
For one thing, the amounts involved are not earth-shattering. Yet it has gripped the attention of this nation as if our future depends on it. And in a sense it does.
This is because despite Shaik standing in the dock alone, there will be the omnipresence of Deputy President Jacob Zuma in the court room. Left out of the charge sheet by the prosecution team, they have at the same time placed him at the centre of the case.
The charges of bribery relate to him, the charges of corruption relate to him, the charges of improper behaviour, of unbecoming conduct and all other allegations relate to him.
And yet, except for his team of lawyers, he will not be there.
Still, our future as a nation depends on the outcome of this case. The issues are quite simple: Zuma stands to replace Thabo Mbeki as president in 2009 as the tradition within the ANC is that the deputy takes over - as Zuma has pointed out.
But the shenanigans around Shaik may scuttle these plans.
For the record, Zuma has denied any wrongdoing, and said he should be charged by anyone who believes he did something wrong and can back it up in a court of law.
Already, the Gauteng province of the ANC has tabled a motion for discussion on Mbeki's successor . The ANC Youth league has said this is unnecessary as Zuma will be president .
But it is not that simple. Zuma's lifestyle is beyond his means. To sustain it, Shaik has been dolling out thousands of rands in what, he says, were loans, but what, the prosecution says, looks more like a retainer.
In terms of the Companies Act, if Shaik , through his companies, gave Zuma money either as a gift or even a loan, the company must produce proof that the payments were loans, and were justified and discussed in a properly constituted board meeting.
If Shaik can prove that to the court, the remaining matter is one of a Zuma who lives beyond his means, which is not a criminal offence, but neither is it the type of conduct for the future president of this country.
If, however, Shaik fails to convince the court of the justification of the payments to Zuma, he would be found to have contravened the Act and could be jailed.
The prosecution says the documentation around the so-called loans is unconvincing and chaotic. They say the money given to Zuma was to buy his influence to open doors for Shaik's Nkobi companies.
Should Shaik admit to this, it would mean Zuma's assertions of innocence and his explanations to Parliament could be found wanting. This is unfortunate, but does not detract from the fact that his fate is now inextricably linked to Shaik , who is standing trial for issues that affect both of them.
With acknowledgement to the City Press.