Had Mr Zuma been a private citizen, the public might have presumed his innocence and patiently awaited the conclusion of his trial. But he is not just a private citizen. He is seeking the highest public office in the land and, for that reason, his trial in the court of public opinion is already in full swing.
It has become common to speak of Jacob Zuma as having “merely” sought a R500,000 annual bribe from the French arms company Thales (formerly Thomson-CSF). That’s not all, of course, but let’s just for the moment concede that a R500,000 bribe is, in relation to the amounts flowing in the arms deal, but small cheese – hardly worth mentioning, let alone prosecuting him for. Especially since, so that argument goes, he didn’t swing the corrupt arms deal as such, but merely helped out with a bit of after-the-event cover-up.
The trouble is that when people talk like that they’ve forgotten all about Zuma’s “generally corrupt relationship” with Schabir Shaik. When Schabir was charged, tried and sentenced, the prosecutors were only able to prove a total of R1.2m that Shaik had paid to a public office-bearer – one Jacob Zuma – to secure his favour and influence in advancing Shaik’s general business interests. Like helping Shaik secure a stake in the proposed Durban Point waterfront development and Hilton Hotel, or in a major tourism project that was to have been launched by Scottish investor Professor John Lennon, and, best of all, the extremely lucrative contract to produce the country's "credit card" drivers' licences. Schabir Shaik collected a hefty prison sentence on that score alone. His conviction and sentence were confirmed by both the appeal court and the constitutional court.
Logically, of course, the identical case holds against Zuma, the other half of the same “generally corrupt” relationship – except that since the Shaik trial the Scorpions have unearthed documentation to show that, in fact, Shaik had over the years paid Zuma not just R1.2m, but more than R4m, to advance their sweet but generally corrupt relationship. Shaik did try pleading that these payments were part of a “revolving loan” agreement he had with Zuma. The trouble was that it never revolved: Zuma never paid interest, or even a cent in capital. And they could not produce a signed agreement. None of the judges believed them.
Unless Zuma is able successfully to plead insanity or mental retardation, on these charges alone the odds are 1000-to-one he’s a goner. All the prosecution has to do is play it again Sam.
That settled, let’s take another look at his role in the arms deal. There, closer examination reveals a lot, lot more than we had originally imagined. By no means was he the poor Zulu waiter left to collect the after-party dregs! Our man, it transpires, had already, early on, elbowed his way to a place at the main table. Come to think of it, with his friend Schabir Shaik as his moneymate, it would have been extremely odd if he hadn’t done so. Schabir's brother Chippy was the official producer-director of the entire arms deal show. (Which might explain why he is now said to be headed for Australia, whose courts don’t generally favour extradition to South Africa.)
In 1992 – yes, the arms dealers were then already closing in – Schabir Shaik and Thomson (“The French”) drafted a memorandum of understanding according to which all Thomson’s interests in South Africa were to be held and controlled through a new local company called Nkobi Holdings, in which the Shaiks, the French and the ANC (or a faction of it) would be shareholders. Contemporaneous notes made by Shaik suggest that, even at that point, the plan was to have Zuma as a ghost or “occult” stakeholder, entitling him to a percentage of the profits.
When, however, soon thereafter, the French got warnings from people close to Nelson Mandela (such as silk-shirt/arms-trader Yussuf Surtee) that the Shaiks’ Nkobi Holdings was not a “suitable” partner, Thomson-CSF of France bought a direct stake in South African arms company ADS, in preparation for its bid for a cut of the arms deal – leaving Nkobi and the Shaiks out in the cold.
Documents that have since come to light suggest that the French had been encouraged by parties close to Mandela and his then deputy, Thabo Mbeki, to rather go into partnership with another ANC outfit, led by Reuel Khoza, called Consolidated Network Investments (CNI).
In fact, things were going really badly for the Nkobi crowd – until Zuma actively intervened on their behalf.
On about 3 July 1998 Zuma met Jean-Paul Perrier of Thomson in London, and persuaded the French to consider restructuring their holding of ADS – giving Nkobi its promised share. They clearly took him seriously: On the same day they set about arranging a meeting with Chippy Shaik, the official arms deal co-ordinator. At their subsequent two-hour meeting, held a week later, Chippy told them that if Thomson’s partners and friends "suited him", he would make things "easier", and, if not, he would make things "difficult".
He also informed them that, within a year, Jacob Zuma would be a member of the South African cabinet.
The French could take a hint. Three weeks later they were in Durban negotiating with Schabir. Zuma popped in at the meeting, just for a cup of tea.
That, take note, was more than a year before the arms deal was signed.
Zuma’s role gets poignant play in a vignette offered by Schabir Shaik’s former assistant, Bianca Singh, in her court evidence. In her recollection, it must have been late in 1998 when her boss, Schabir, received a telephone call from his brother, defence procurement co-ordinator Chippy Shaik. She recalled Schabir assuring Chippy: “No, don’t worry. Not to worry.” Immediately thereafter Schabir had telephoned Jacob Zuma – she knew it was him, because Schabir said “Hello my brother! Hi JZ!”. Schabir, according to Singh, had then told Zuma: “Chippy is under presure and we really need your help to land this deal.”
There was, she declared, only one deal they could have been talking about: the arms deal. History suggests they got all the help they needed. (And are still getting it.)
A year later Schabir was writing to the French about “our understanding, Re: Deputy President Jacob Zuma and issues raised”.
So JZ was using his political leverage to gain some profitable access to the arms deal before it was concluded, and later he was involved in the cover-up for a small consideration.
But, as the late night TV ad says, There’s more!
The deal struck with the French on Zuma’s behalf, according to one of their now notorious encrypted faxes, entailed his receiving R500,000 per year until the ADS’s dividends began to flow. The fax, sent by Thomson’s then “delegate” in SA, to his head office in Paris (with a copy to the chairman of Thomson International), also sets out what they expected from Mr Zuma in return.
“May I remind you,” says the delegate, “that the two main objectives of the ‘effort’ [payment to Zuma] requested of Thomson are: Protection of Thomson-CSF during the current investigations (Citron), [and] permanent support of JZ for the future projects.” [Citron was the navy's code name for the corvette tender.]
Future projects? Yes, dear reader, Thomson, now Thales and/or Thint, are indeed, right now, lined up for yet more lucrative deals with the SA Defence Force, presumably with Zuma’s support. This time it’s a R2.2bn order from the army for short-range missiles. Please note: no tender was required.
Back in 1994 the ANC might have been a simpering virgin being led to the dance floor by arms dealers. But the South African dame now floating comfortably in the European arms dealers’ embrace is undoubtedly an old whore.
The fact that Jacob Zuma thinks he doesn’t have to explain and come clean with the public on these matters before asking us for his vote is sufficient warning of serious trouble in the making.
Southern Africa already has one psychopathic, sometimes charming, president – do we need another?
It would be well that Zuma’s madly enthusiastic supporters take note of the vast numbers of Zimbabweans desperately seeking food and shelter in South Africa. When it's our turn, where do we take the bus to for help, or walk a thousand miles to for a bite to eat? Ah, yes, sorry – there is the ferry. To Robben Island.
Zuma's supporters should also note that, when we pass judgment on Zuma, we will also pass judgment on the party that saw fit to elect a man steeped in corruption as its leader.
Don’t wait until tomorrow. Get out there and join – and actively support, with muscle and money – the opposition party of your choice.
The odds are bigger than we’d like them to be, but change is possible. Ask Barack Obama.
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