Shaik on Trial, but Zuma's Future at Stake
Bloemfontein - Although deputy president Jacob Zuma is not a defendant in Shabir Shaik's trail, his presence in the Durban High Court will undoubtedly be felt.
No one will look at Schabir Shaik, who is also referred to as SS, in the dock - on two counts of corruption and one of fraud - without noticing Zuma's shadow at his side.
But the case and its implications for Zuma's candidacy for president are not so simple.
Two political commentators, Prof Andre Duvenhage of the University of the Free State and Jonathan Faull of Idasa, point out that it must be kept in mind that Zuma has not been charged with anything.
Faull says: "The Scorpions argue that he can be charged, but nothing has come of these threats, besides, of course, what is to come from the Shaik case."
Duvenhage says: "Despite the fact that corruption and bribery allegations have been doing the rounds for many years, it can at best be regarded as untried information. Our country's legal processes have the last word here. The perspective should be: innocent until proven otherwise."
Duvenhage believes, however, that corruption and bribery allegations will not be forgotten in the South African political environment with its own conflict, self-interest, instability and even crime.
"It is definitely ammunition in the hands of those who have an eye on the presidency and/or have an axe to grind, for whatever reason, with the deputy president.
Faull is of the opinion that, regardless of the cloud of suspicion over Zuma the past three years, ever since Patricia de Lille's allegations surfaced about the involvement of the presidency in corruption surrounding the arms scandal, Zuma has emerged "relatively unscathed politically".
Faull points out that although Zuma has not been charged, his name occurs on the charge sheet numerous times.
"In essence, the charges against SS concern an incongruous relationship with a public official, and this official is JZ. If SS is found guilty, the implication is that it takes two people for this tango.
"With regards to JZ and his succession of the president, the most important thing is that politics is about perceptions and not about the law. If he is found guilty in one way or the other, he will lose his public official status.
"Besides, in politics, the succession battle will depend on people's perceptions of Zuma. It won't be a choice of national democracy but one that will be forged by the ANC's internal guiding process.
"Some people can take a specific stand, but the ANC-South African Communist Party-Cosatu alliance's stand on the presidency will be key."
Duvenhage says Zuma's popularity should not be underestimated.
"He is a very influential and popular leader in the ANC, especially among the youth, populist groups such as Cosatu and the SACP, and in certain provinces, especially the Free State."
With acknowledgements to Gert Coetzee and the Volksblad.