State Witness Sticks to his Guns
The Independent on Saturday
Professor Themba Sono - the first witness for the state in its case against Durban businessman Schabir Shaik and 11 of his companies on charges of corruption and fraud - stuck firmly to his guns on Friday.
The state contends, among other issues, that a "general corrupt relationship" existed between Shaik and Deputy President Jacob Zuma - that, essentially, Shaik had financed Zuma in return for political favours and clout.
Despite exhaustive cross-examination by Shaik's advocate, Francois van Zyl SC, Sono, giving evidence in A court of the Durban High Court, remained adamant that Shaik's true interest had not been black economic empowerment but making money, mainly for himself.
He said, too, that Shaik had continually stressed to potential business partners that he and his companies were extremely "well connected" politically.
Sono repeated his words of Thursday that "Shaik carried this big cellphone that he would never turn off because he said that Deputy President Jacob Zuma might phone at any time".
Sono, now the deputy leader of the Independent Democrats and a Gauteng minister, was a director of Nkobi Holdings (accused No 2 in the trial) in 1996, but resigned in February 1997.
He said his reasons for resigning were Shaik's continual name-dropping (of influential people), financial difficulties (Sono said he had had to use his own money for the company salaries one month and that the R75 000 had not been repaid), and because of Shaik's "boorishness".
He said Shaik had said to him one day: "Listen here, my friend, your blackness means nothing to me, (nor does) your professorship, PhD, connection with Mandela, Mbeki or the ANC mean anything in this company."
Sono rejected Van Zyl's contention that Shaik had not apologised after these remarks (as Sono claimed) and had in fact been happy to see the back of Sono.
"He can say what he likes. I'm standing here and this is what I say," Sono replied.
The trial proper started on Wednesday instead of on Monday, as scheduled, because the first two days of the week were given over to e.tv's application to be allowed to televise the proceedings.
Judge Hilary Squires - although stressing that "in principle" he was not opposed to television coverage - refused the application because he felt the presence of cameras might have a negative effect on some or all of the 105 witnesses due to be called and because cameras would be bothersome in such a small court.
He said, however, that "if anyone is still interested then", he would be prepared to consider coverage of closing arguments due in December.
On Wednesday, Billy Downer SC, outlined the state's complex case against Shaik. Shaik pleaded not guilty to two charges of corruption and one of fraud and alternative charges related to reckless trading, tax evasion and money laundering.
Sono finished giving evidence and facing cross-examination and re-examination on Friday.
The first witnesses next week are scheduled to be former employees of Shaik and of Alain Thetard of arms dealer Thomson-CSF (now called Thint).
With acknowledgements to Jeremy Gordin and The Independent on Saturday.