Publication: Mail and Guardian
Focus Firmly on Corruption in SA
Mail and Guardian
Africa's would-be president and a group of lawmakers appear in court on the same
day next week, as two of the most potentially damaging trials of the
post-apartheid era put the spotlight on corruption.
Some South Africans
say the trials, whose same start on Monday is a coincidence, underscore the
commitment of President Thabo Mbeki to stamp out corruption
dogging every level of his government *1.
But critics charge the
president has focused attention on his axed deputy, Jacob Zuma, to avoid
addressing wider questions that could drag down his administration.
whose popularity has soared since he was acquitted of rape in May, goes on trial
in the Pietermaritzburg High Court alongside a French
weapons company accused of bribing him to deflect
investigations into a 1999 arms deal with the South African government,
which has already destroyed a number of political careers.
At the same
time, 29 lawmakers and travel agents will appear in Cape Town on charges that
they defrauded Parliament of up to R24-million by using vouchers intended for
official travel to pay for luxury holidays, meals and car rentals.
"It is fantastic that such strong action could be taken
against the deputy president of a country," said professor Adam Habib, head of
the democracy and governance programme at the Human Sciences Research Council.
"It doesn't even happen much in the industrialised world, and it's especially
worthwhile noting in a young democracy like South Africa."
brought against Zuma after he was implicated in the fraud and corruption
conviction of his friend and financial adviser, Schabir Shaik.
in that case found Shaik had made payments to the former anti-apartheid fighter
totalling about R1,2-million to fund a lavish lifestyle.
He also found
that Zuma was aware of Shaik's efforts to facilitate a yearly payment of R500
000 to the ex-deputy president from French arms manufacturer Thint Holdings --
formerly Thomson CSF.
Shaik was sentenced to 15 years in jail but is
appealing his conviction.
Zuma, who was dismissed and charged soon after,
denies any wrongdoing. His supporters claim the case against Zuma is part of a
plot to prevent him succeeding Mbeki when the president completes his second and
final term in 2009.
The trial also threatens to
engulf Mbeki, who acknowledged in a newspaper interview earlier this year
that he authorised a letter *2 sent by Zuma
lambasting a probe by a parliamentary public accounts committee into the 1999
weapons deal -- a document that featured prominently at the Shaik
Mbeki insisted there had never been any secret about this, but
indicated he would be reluctant to be summoned as a
Prosecutors are requesting that the case be postponed
until next year, which could aggravate a damaging power struggle between
supporters of the African National Congress's top two leaders.
has surrounded the multibillion-rand package to buy ships, submarines,
helicopters, jets and other weaponry from European and South African firms from
One of its early casualties was the ANC's former chief whip,
Tony Yengeni, who was sentenced to four years in prison for defrauding
Parliament and accepting a big discount on a luxury 4X4 Mercedes Benz from
Daimler-Benz Aerospace during negotiations on the deal.
German investigators launched a probe into a group of companies suspected of paying bribes to secure a lucrative contract to
supply warships and submarines to South Africa's navy *3.
say such investigations have failed to act as a deterrent and that the arrest of
parliamentarians -- most of them ANC members -- in the so-called "Travelgate"
scam proves that fraud and wrongdoing are rampant in the corridors of
Allegations of corruption are just as pervasive at the local
level, with many complaining that cronyism and nepotism are more important in
the awarding of tenders and allocation of state-provided housing than merit or
The need to clean up municipal government was
Mbeki's main campaign theme at local elections *1 earlier this
With acknowledgements to Sapa and Mail and Guardian.
*1 A far greater commitment is at
local level and a far lesser commitment is at national
*2 This is a complete red
So what if Mbeki authorised the letter, Zuma signed the letter
as Head of Government Business. But that's still of little import, Zuma himself
gave a coded signal to a Frenchman accepting a bribe of 500 kZAR per year. The
wily Frenchman wrote all of this down on a piece of paper in the aeroplane while
flying back to Johannesburg after meeting Zuma on 10 and/or 11 February 2000 to
arrange the bribe. The wily Frenchman then gave his letter to his secretary to
type and fax to his bosses in Paris. The good lady did what her bosses paid her
to do, but cleverly and bravely kept both the pieces of paper and gave them to
another brave lady from the National Prosecuting Authority who acted fearlessly
on one hand and fearfully on the other. Otherwise all this mess would have been
the singular pleasure of Mr Justice H.G. Squires and would long have been over.
The wily Frenchman even gave the NPA a signed affidavit that he was the author
of the incriminating document.
So how can Mr Zuma get off because Mr
Mbeki authorised the disparaging letter to Dr Woods?
How can Thomson-CSF
/ Thales / Thint get off after their local designated chief official bribe the
deputy president with the full knowledge of his immediate superior Yann de
Jomaron and the ultimately responsible executive Jean-Paul Perrier.
the question remains - why did the Frenchmen need to bribe the Deputy President
in order that he protect them from an investigation?
Was it anything to
do with a secret meeting in Paris on 17 December 1998 and attended by Jean-Paul
Perrier and his two most senior executives?
Was it anything to do with a
series of meetings between June 1998 and July 1999 between the who's who of the
ANC and the same wily Frenchman?
*3 How did the
Frenchmen manage to obtain an assurance from Mbeki that they would be awarded
the contract without any competition for the corvette combat system and its
sensors over two years before the contract was signed?
Was it the 5%
commissions allocated within their price for the combat suite?
Was it the
pleasant surprise of being able to get away with a price of R2,599 billion when
a price of R2,300 billion had already been negotiated by 28 April 1999 (after
the DoD had set a ceiling price of R1, 470 billion in 1997 Rands, escalated to
R1,800 billion in 1998 Rands)?
Why was the