The Stage is Set for Shabir Shaik's Trial in Durban on Monday
Estelle Ellis, Jeremy Gordin
The stage is set for Hamlet - Without the Prince, act 2.
Act 1 was played out in Bloemfontein last year when Deputy President Jacob Zuma was the missing witness in the Hefer Commission of Inquiry.
That inquiry had been set up to probe allegations that the then national director of public prosecutions, Bulelani Ngcuka, was an apartheid-era spy. Allegations, one may add, made by Mo Shaik, who admitted under cross-examination he was "carrying a flag" for Zuma.
Now act 2 is about to begin in Durban at the trial of Mo Shaik's brother, Shabir, for corruption and fraud. Once again Zuma is the missing witness, conspicuously missing from the list of 105 people the State will call - but glaringly present in the allegations contained in the charge sheet.
"It is not our intention to call the deputy president," said National Prosecuting Authority spokesman Sipho Ngwema. "But you never know."
Shaik's attorney, Reeves Parsee, was unavailable for comment on Tuesday. But sources close to Shaik's legal team said that "it is inconceivable that the State would call Zuma in 1 000 years - because he would destroy its case in a second".
The same source said the Shaik team would call Zuma "if necessary - he is mindful of how important this case is. But we are also aware of, and extremely sensitive about, the innuendo that was put out by Bulelani Ngcuka at his infamous briefing to editors in 2003, in which he claimed that a group of Indians was taking advantage of the poor deputy president. So we will consider carefully everything we do".
Zuma has always maintained his innocence regarding corruption, something which became more and more difficult to do as the rumours about him were turned into a fully-fledged Scorpions investigation.
Then came the statement by Ngcuka, and then Minister of Justice Penuell Maduna, that on the face of it a case existed against the deputy president but that Ngcuka had declined to prosecute. Ngcuka said the decision had been taken despite a recommendation by his investigating team.
Instead, Shaik, known to be Zuma's financial adviser, was charged with corruption, fraud, theft of company assets, tax evasion and reckless trading. Shaik's charge sheet alleged that Zuma had received a bribe from French arms company Thomson-CSF/Thales (Thint Pty Ltd) and hinted at a "general corrupt relationship"between Shaik and Zuma.
Curiously, in the draft charge sheet there was a reference to an "accused number three" who was never named or mentioned again.
The only real chance that Zuma had to refute any allegations publicly was to answer some of the questions sent to him by the Scorpions (and leaked to the media).
His answers were drafted by advocate Kessie Naidu, who would later lead evidence at the Hefer Commission. Zuma said the allegations of corruption were "baseless, defamatory and grossly unfair".
Zuma then lodged an urgent court application to get access to an encrypted fax - alleged to be the main piece of evidence of his being offered a bribe. The Pretoria High Court ordered that Zuma get full access to the handwritten, encrypted fax in French in which Alain Thetard, of the French company Thales, allegedly stated that he had had a meeting with Zuma and Shaik in Durban in 2000.
Then followed the Hefer Commission, and even though Zuma offered to give evidence, the ANC stated that it did not wish him to do so, and in any event Judge Joos Hefer declined to subpoena him.
In May this year the Public Protector recommended that action be taken against Ngcuka for "abusing his powers" during the Zuma investigation. Parliament returned a neutral verdict on the issue.
It seems that Zuma will have more lawyers than anybody else at the trial.
His four-person legal team has been briefed to keep a watch over proceedings. They are Russel MacDonald, Julie Mohamed, Neil Tipton and Mohamed Patel.
What is not known is how Zuma, alleged to be permanently ash-strapped, will pay for his band of legal emissaries.
"I guess he will have to beg and borrow ... all over again. What choice does he have?" said a source close to Zuma.
"I intend to take this matter further," Zuma has been reported to have said many times. At this point, what he lacks is the stage on which to do so.
With acknowledgements to Estelle Ellis, Jeremy Gordin and the Cape Times.