Publication: BBC World Service
BBC World Service
Label Listen (23mins)
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
With acknowledgement to BBC World Service.
Act: Zuma shouts and sings
Power to the People! Jacob Zuma leads the African National Congress in song.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
means....in 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
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
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
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
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?