Publication: Mail and Guardian Issued: Date: 2006-07-27 Reporter: Sapa Reporter:

Focus Firmly on Corruption in SA



Mail and Guardian





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South 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.

Zuma, 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."

Charges were brought against Zuma after he was implicated in the fraud and corruption conviction of his friend and financial adviser, Schabir Shaik.

The judge 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 trial.

Mbeki insisted there had never been any secret about this, but indicated he would be reluctant to be summoned as a witness.

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.

Scandal has surrounded the multibillion-rand package to buy ships, submarines, helicopters, jets and other weaponry from European and South African firms from the outset.

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.

Last month, 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.

Critics 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 power.

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 need.

The need to clean up municipal government was Mbeki's main campaign theme at local elections *1 earlier this year.

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 level.

*2      This is a complete red herring.

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.

But 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 Frenchman wily?