Publication: BBC World Service Issued: Date: 2008-03-06 Reporter:

Assignment : Jacob Zuma



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Last Updated: Thursday, 6 March 2008, 09:06 GMT

Jacob Zuma is on a roll. He took control of South Africa's ruling African National Congress late last year. He's now the man most likely to become the country's next president.

But Jacob Zuma has a problem. Prosecutors say he's corrupt. They've charged him with racketeering, fraud, money laundering and corruption. Mr Zuma says he's innocent. He says the charges are part of a political conspiracy directed from the office of South Africa's current president, Thabo Mbeki.

Mr Zuma's legal advisor has told the BBC he will call Mr Mbeki to testify if the case goes to trial as planned in August. But Mr Zuma will first try to throw out evidence gathered in recent raids. South Africa's Constitutional Court will hear those arguments on March 11. For Assignment Martin Plaut travelled to Johannesburg and Cape Town to investigate the truth and rumours surrounding the case.

With acknowledgement to BBC World Service.

Act: Zuma shouts and sings
Power to the People! Jacob Zuma leads the African National Congress in song.
Upsound singing
It's a moment of triumph. Jacob Zuma - a man who grew up in one of the most impoverished corners of rural South Africa, leaving without receiving any formal education - has taken control of the ruling party. He's now the man most likely to be the next president of South Africa.
Upsound singing
Jacob Zuma swept the current president, Thabo Mbeki and his supporters from the party's top positions.  And did so despite a history of legal troubles. Jacob Zuma had already fought off allegations that he raped a young woman. Now - even as he sang with his party he was facing a fresh legal challenge. On December 27th charges were laid: corruption, racketeering, money-laundering, fraud and falsifying tax returns. The state alleged that over ten years Mr Zuma received seven-hundred-and-eighty-three illegal payments, totalling over five-hundred-thousand dollars. For the former ANC member of parliament, Andrew Feinstein, it's a moment which will effect the political direction of South Africa for years to come.
The Jacob Zuma trial will be a touchstone of South Africa's democracy. If the ANC prevents the trial from going ahead, the rule of law will have been fatally and fundamentally undermined. If, however, Jacob Zuma is given a fair and just trial - which I believe is possible - and he is shown to be guilty or innocent, the miracle of South Africa's democracy will be able to continue.
This BBC documentary will investigate the substance of the charges against Jacob Zuma and whether after facing allegations for the past seven years, he can really get a fair trial.
Jacob Zuma first gained prominence in the ANC fighting apartheid. Based in Mozambique, Swaziland and Zambia he was someone who thought nothing of putting his own life at risk - slipping illegally across into South Africa to help the underground resistance.  But one problem he never faced was money. Like others in the ANC leadership his needs were taken care of by the movement.  This lack of financial responsibility can be seen as having laid the foundations for Zuma's current troubles. Bheki Jacobs was a member of the ANC intelligence, someone who worked closely with Jacob Zuma.
If Zuma came from Mozambique into Swaziland, whatever happens, we take care of it financially. Go into a restaurant, we pay for it. He doesn't use any money. So the entire thing, whatever his needs are, they're addressed by us. So Zuma has no responsibility in terms of funds.
And Bheki Jacobs says Mr Zuma  maintained the same relationship with money after 1994 and the end of Apartheid.
When he got back to Durban, the Indian businessmen, African businessmen, White -- everybody was helping and this was not just for Mr Zuma. It includes all other leaders of the ANC. It was just a mess. And everybody was helping everybody else. And eventually these relationships and a lot of the same way we operated in exile, the senior leaders like Mr Zuma continued with that. And we on the ground felt there was nothing wrong with it. Because that's how it was going on.
On his return from exile in 1990 Jacob Zuma was elected deputy president of the ANC, and became a provincial politician in his home region, Kwa-Zulu Natal. But his political career soon nearly came to an end. His financial situation became so precarious that he considered abandoning politics altogether. It's said he was living way beyond his means.
Sam Sole is one of South Africa's leading investigative reporters, writing for the Mail and Guardian newspaper.
This is a man who has multiple wives, multiple girlfriends and a whole raft of children - legitimate and illegitimate. He has a vast extended family network. And as the big man coming in, there would have been an expectation on him to provide. And he wasn't able to do that.
Jacob Zuma told his friend and confidante, the businessman Schabir Shaik, that he might have to quit politics in order to make ends meet. Schabir Shaik said no, and offered to help instead. He became Mr Zuma's "financial advisor" and started paying some of his bills.

Prosecutors say this was the beginning of a corrupt relationship between the two men....A relationship that became bound up in South Africa's biggest-ever arms deal.
Act: Simons Town music
Some music for the tourists at the port of Simons Town. They sip coffee and look over the harbour that's home to the South African navy.
Act: Music fades into wind
Martin (tape) The wind's blowing hard as it often does down at this part of the Cape.
I can see the shapes of three gray warships. During the Apartheid era, a United Nations arms embargo meant the country received no new weapons systems. When racial discrimination was swept away, the government decided its armed forces needed to be re-equipped. With me is retired rear admiral Chris Bennett. Mr Bennett, what was required at the end of the Apartheid era?
Bennett: We sat with the problem that the whole of the defence force had to be transformed. We needed re-equipping. The Navy especially required considerable re-equipping, because all their ships were old, all their ships were becoming obsolete. And without re-equipping the navy, in fact virtually replacing the whole navy, it would have come to a grinding halt.
It's hard to overestimate how large this deal was. The Cold War had ended; arms companies were eager to find new clients. The prospect of re-equipping an entire navy, to say nothing of the army and air force, had companies from all over the world scrambling for contracts. The deal was huge - worth over four point eight billion dollars. Firms from Sweden, Italy, France, Britain and Germany won the orders.
But South Africa wanted to ensure local black owned companies would also benefit. So the government said foreign corporations had to find a local partner. One of those was a firm run by Schabir Shaik. And in 1998, Mr Shaik - who had by this time paid Jacob Zuma more than thirty-eight-thousand dollars -- turned to Jacob Zuma to help secure a contract.
ACT: Atmos and Big Ben
Standup in London: Schabir Shaik arranged a meeting here in London...between an official from a French arms firm, Thales, and Jacob Zuma. It was July, 1998. A similar meeting in mid November came just days before Thales was awarded the contract to supply weapons systems to the South African Navy. And Thales's local partner, was the man who had organised the meetings: Schabir Shaik.
It was very devastating. One is left with a very empty feeling when potentially six years of one's endeavours and a huge amount of time and money just evaporate.
Richard Young lost the contract to supply the navy with weapons control systems to Shabir Shaik. He was furious about the way the tenders had been awarded.
Schabir Shaik, who already had his tentacles in with the French, outmanoevered us at the political level, by calling in what we call the top cover - such as Joe Modise, the minister of defence at the time, and Jacob Zuma - using their political influence to get the navy and Armscor to change the specifications such that we were finally excluded.
ACT De Lille Donut
Martin: In late 1999 questions were being raised in parliament. I've come to the office of an MP with a feisty reputation, Patricia de Lille, leader of the Independent Democrats. How did you first become aware that all was not well with the arms deal?
Patricia: I was first approached by some concerned ANC members of parliament who raised the concerns with me about allegations of corruption in the arms deal. And they said, look you're the only one that we can trust. They then requested me to blow the whistle on it, you know, to raise it in public.
This she did. And in November 2000 a parliamentary committee began investigating the allegations. They did so with considerable vigour.  Initially the ANC was supportive. Andrew Feinstein was the senior ANC member on the committee. He made a point of going to see Jacob Zuma, who by this time was not only an MP, but was deputy president, in charge of the government's parliamentary business.
Jacob Zuma was the one person who made it absolutely clear to me that it was our constitutional responsibility to pursue this investigation. And, on a number of subsequent meetings as I kept him informed of the direction of our investigation, he reiterated the point to me: that he felt we were performing our constitutional responsibility, and even in the face of quite hostile criticism from the President and the president's key advisors, he continued to encourage me to pursue the investigation.
But just at the committee was going about its business there was another, critical development, of which they were not aware.  The French contractors began to believe they might be under threat from the emerging investigations. They looked around for political support. Exactly what took place might never have come to light without a twist of fate. A secretary in the main French naval contractor - Thales - fell out with her boss. Sam Sole has been working on this story for the best part of a decade. He describes this as a golden moment.
The head of the French company here had had a falling out with his secretary. She had been dismissed, but when she left, she took with her key documents, including the notorious encrypted fax.
The encrypted fax - a copy of which I've read - was sent to the Thales headquarters on the seventeenth of March 2000, allegedly set out the terms under which the company would pay Jacob Zuma sixty-five thousand dollars a year. In exchange the company would receive protection from any investigation into the arms deal. Sam Sole.
That was a golden piece of evidence. Until that piece of evidence fell in the laps of the investigators, they didn't have that much to go on. And I think without that document, it would have all been swept under the carpet. We wouldn't be in the place we are now.
And just at this point Jacob Zuma's message changed.  Support for the parliamentary investigation turned to hostility. And as it did, the pressure on the committee intensified. Gavin Woods was an opposition MP, and the committee chair. In January, 2001, Mr Woods received a phone call from Jacob Zuma's office.
This call came through saying we wanted to send you this letter from the deputy president Jacob Zuma. And I thought that's very strange, because he's one party who really hadn't featured. Zuma hadn't been in the frame at all...
But before Gavin Woods had even received the letter, it had been distributed to journalists....
My phone started ringing and it was people from the press saying, my goodness! This Zuma letter is shocking, terrible! And I said I'm only just getting it as we speak. So I got the letter. And I remember I was just stunned. And I realised it was the type of letter I'd have to read two or three times.
I've got a copy of the 13-page letter in front of me. It questioned every action the committee was taking saying the government "...would defend itself against any malicious misinformation campaign intended to discredit the government and destabilize the country." It was was an attack not just on Gavin Woods but on the entire investigation into the arms deal. Signed by Jacob Zuma, the letter effectively marked the end of serious parliamentary oversight of the arms deal.
It was fairly viscious in places. It was very strongly written. There was obviously a lot of anger at myself in particular, so I didn't know what that meant.  It was quite frightening to know that people as powerful as that could write letters like that.
Andrew Feinstein points out that the letter came just after Mr Zuma allegedly promised to block investigations into the arms deal in exchange for cash.
It was only after he and Shabir Shaik received what has become known as  the encrypted fax from Thomson's CFS as it was then known, the French arms company, informing them that they would receive a payment of half a million Rand on the 21st of January of the next year, that Zuma's attitude changed profoundly.

Martin: And how did you react?

Well, I was absolutely shocked at that point. Somebody who had been supportive, who had kept on encouraging us to pursue the truth, to fulfil our constitutional responsibility, would suddenly have absolutely no contact with me whatsoever. He wouldn't take my phone calls let alone meet with me. And all that I knew about his new attitude to this investigation was contained in this 13-page letter that he'd sent to Gavin Woods and to the committee, in which suddenly, from being supportive, he excoriated the committee, suggesting that we had no idea of what we were doing. Suggesting that we were fabricating lies about the role of the executive, and that we were suggesting the prestigious international corporations - that is, the arms companies - were being damaged by what we were doing unfairly. I was absolutely shocked. I was stunned. I felt that the one vestige of support that I had within the ANC leadership had suddenly been turned.
In 2005, Schabir Shaik was tried, convicted and sentenced to fifteen years in prison for fraud and corruption for arranging corrupt payments to Jacob Zuma from the French company, Thales, in return for facilitating the arms deal. Despite appeals to South Africa's highest court, that conviction still stands. And in his decision, Judge Hillary Squires described the relationship between Shaik and Jacob Zuma.
Instead of just stabilising the situation and managing Zuma's chaotic finances thereafter, so that the debts could be paid off and financial stability restored, Shaik then made it possible for Zuma to continue living beyond his our view, no sane or rational businessman would conduct his business on such a basis without expecting some benefit from it that would make it worthwhile....these payments can only have generated a sense of obligation in the recipient. (Squires, 33-34.)
Jacob Zuma was not charged at the same time as Schabir Shaik. Mr Zuma has never faced a court to explain the information that emerged at the Shaik trial and has always maintained his innocence. But he has already paid a price for the allegations. President Thabo Mbeki addressed parliament shortly after Shaik's conviction.
As president of the republic, I've come to the conclusion that the circumstances dictate that in the interests of the honourable deputy president, the government, our young democratic system and our country, it would be best to release honourable Jacob Zuma from his responsibilities as deputy president of the republic and member of the cabinet.
On December the 27th last year - seven years after the first allegations were made against him - Jacob Zuma was finally charged. The indictment alleges that over a ten-year period Mr Zuma received seven-hundred-and-eighty-three separate payments from companies run by Schabir Shaik.
We asked him for an interview for this investigation, but he was unavailable.  Mr Zuma has insisted he'll stay on as leader of the ANC, and even president of South Africa, unless and until he's been convicted, as he told the BBC earlier this year.
As you know this has gone on for over seven years now. Which in itself is a difficult thing for anyone to understand, because if at all these allegations were allegations to take me to prison - firstly I should have been charged. I came to court to be charged, and the state did not have the case ready. And of course that raises a lot of suspicions.
Suspicions; rumours of political intrigues behind the prosecutor's decisions have haunted this case.

Willem Heath is one of Mr Zuma's legal advisers. He sees a political campaign to discredit Jacob Zuma and prevent him from coming to power.
Heath: Six, seven years ago an allegation was made that they had the perfect case against him. Then the ideal opportunity was to prosecute him with Shaik, they didn't do that. Then after Shaik was convicted they said they announced they were going to prosecute him immediately. Again, that didn't occur. Now, all of a sudden, after he was elected as president of the ANC, they came to light again with this new indictment. So that's an indication that they're not only serious, but the impression is that it lacks the evidence that one would expect they would have.

Martin: But why would they persist with an indictment against somebody against whom they have no evidence?

Heath: That's part of the politics against Zuma. I just believe that it is politically-motivated and that the prosecuting authority has probably been told or instructed by Mbeki to proceed with the investigation and the prosecution against him.
This is the alleged political conspiracy against Jacob Zuma: that a charismatic, and popular candidate for the presidency of South Africa should be prevented from assuming office.
Act: Zuma chanting from rape trial
His supporters came out in force the last time he was in court - when he was acquitted of raping the daughter of a friend.
Then as now, many in the ANC believe the criminal charges were made against him for political reasons. They allege that President Thabo Mbeki, directed prosecutors to press the allegations against Mr Zuma to keep him from assuming the highest office in the land.  It's a charge President Mbeki denies, but its firmly believed by many in the ANC.
Act: fade out chanting
Fikile Mbalula is president of the ANC Youth League.
There's been a well-calculated, orchestrated abuse of state power to basically bar somebody from becoming president of this country. And Jacob Zuma has become president of the ANC and will become the president of South Africa because the people understand.
Mr Zuma's critics have little time for this argument. Moeletsi Mbeki, President Mbeki's brother - but very much a man with a reputation for independence.
It is part of a strategy by Jacob Zuma to mobilise ANC members to support him. He said there are conspiracies against him. We have what is emerging among ANC politicians, especially ones who are involved in corruption, whenever they are charged, they come up and say there is a political conspiracy against them. There are no political conspiracies! There are lots of problems in South Africa, so these elements are trying to mobilise the poor people in the country who are having their own financial, economic, health problems, to keep them, the corrupt politicians out of prison.
Since December last year the ANC is divided into two competing camps. The party is under the control of Mr Zuma and his allies. The government continues to be run by  President Mbeki.  But there is little love lost between the two sides, and the party insists it will defend Jacob Zuma to the end.
The ANC may be behind its new president, but a Jacob Zuma trial is a risky proposition - both for the party and the nation. Willem Heath says if the case goes ahead Mr Zuma is determined to call President Thabo Mbeki to testify.
He will most definitely call Mr Mbeki. And he will also call other members of parliament or top structure of the ANC to give evidence on the topics which he believes would be relevant to a trial against him.

Martin: That's going to be enormously damaging to South Africa...

Yes, of course. Well, for that reason, just from a political point of view, I'm not dealing with the law at the moment, because you can't have that situation where two senior people of the ANC and two senior members as far as politics are concerned are giving evidence from two different angles.
Mr Zuma's lawyers have already appealed to the Constitutional Court. It has to decide whether recent prosecution raids to gather evidence violated Mr Zuma's human rights. That case will be heard in March.  If Mr Zuma does have to face a court in August as is planned, some in the ANC have threatened violence. Blood will flow, they say, if Zuma is brought before the courts. So can the judiciary stand the strain?
George Bizos is one of South Africa's most senior and respected lawyers - a man who defended Nelson Mandela during the apartheid years.
If, as Mr Zuma and his political supporters contend that there is a political conspiracy, well, this is what courts are for. He must bring evidence of the political conspiracy. They will listen to the evidence. If the evidence leads them to the conclusion that he is guilty, they will convict him. If they have a reasonable doubt as to whether he is guilty or not, they will acquit him.

With acknowledgement to BBC World Service.

Good stuff, but Willem Heath SC?