Why some in the ANC have never left Jacob Zuma’s side

April 23, 2009

ANC, Featured, People

Zweli Mkhize business day 23 April 2009

WHEN some members of the African National Congress (ANC) stood by party president Jacob Zuma, what did they see that others did not see? Interesting questions from the media have been raised, suggesting that the withdrawal of the charges leaves a cloud over Zuma’s head. The ANC has denied this and asserted that the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) never had a case in the first instance.

The removal of this case from court allows more debate, since the sub judice principle restricted ANC members from openly engaging with this matter in public.

From the start of the case against Zuma, it was known that the NPA wanted to rely on circumstantial evidence and the public perception of Zuma’s guilt to convince the court. They would never produce evidence, as there was none. Whatever evidence they relied upon in the Schabir Shaik trial was not necessarily evidence in the Zuma case. This made the case “not winnable in court”, as then national director of public prosecutions Bulelani Ngcuka put it. The political nature of the case informed the defence strategy — Adv Kemp J Kemp called it “the battle of Leningrad, moving from one burning house to another”, including the challenge to Mauritian courts.

The source of Zuma’s problems started with the R500000 Shaik is said to have received from the French company Thint, with which he was in partnership. The Scorpions initially believed that it was the same money that was transferred to Development Africa, destined for the Nkandla homestead Zuma had constructed with the support of Vivian Reddy.

The Scorpions were disappointed when evidence was shown to them that they were mistaken. The paper trail showed that the funds went from Nelson Mandela to Zuma, and the destination was the repair of the Royal residences in Nongoma and not in Nkandla. Subsequent public statements and evidence in court established this to be the case. However, whereas the investigators understood this information, they were instructed by seniors to insist on their wrong version, arguing that they would convince the court to accept that incorrect version. They had no evidence, but they pushed the burden of proof of innocence to the accused. Hence, the indictment sheet kept changing each time Zuma appeared in court.

Much has been said of the meeting between Zuma, Shaik and former Thint director Alain Thetard, relying on Zuma’s denial of such a meeting having taken place. Nobody noticed that the question asked in Parliament by an opposition party had incorrect details of dates and venues, which Zuma denied without pointing out the erroneous information contained in the question. Suspecting collusion between the Scorpions and the opposition party, Zuma left matters to be clarified in court, as it became clear that this is where the matters were headed. There was nothing untoward about the said meeting as many MECs and ministers have been invited by South African businessmen to meet their potential overseas partners. The meetings never involved a need for the public representative to enter into negotiations on the terms of partnership on behalf of the local partner. It has, however, occurred to many public representatives that businessmen, in their enthusiasm to convince investors of their suitability as local partners, often embellish their status by referring to their personal relations with government ministers. They do this to improve their chances in the face of possible competition, knowing the overseas investor is looking for somebody to add value and “open doors”, which is a valuable factor in business.

In this regard, even the state president’s name is never immune. Some shrewdly allege to be acting on behalf of such ministers, a situation the outsider has insufficient access to high office to prove or disprove. Unless a sympathetic ear picks up such information, the investor may harbour in his mind hopes for a nonexistent relationship. We suspect this situation could have affected Zuma. Many relations of trust are prone to abuse by one partner, as was allegedly the situation in the case of lawyer Ismail Ayob and Mandela. While the integrity of the innocent party may be so impaired, the culpability of the one is not proof of the guilt of the other, as even their intentions and actions are very different.

Zuma was not the only leader who met a company involved in the arms-bid process. It was a big mistake to project Zuma as the pinnacle of corruption in the arms deal, especially because he was not centrally involved in it as he was not in the national cabinet at the time.

Even the letter that excited the opposition, challenging Parliament’s standing committee on public accounts and signed by Zuma, was written by the then president of the republic, Thabo Mbeki. The letter was erroneously used to illustrate that Zuma was protecting Thint. Strange is the explanation that the French were paying for protection by Zuma from investigation. Anyone familiar with the situation could have deduced that no such protection was possible. Zuma could not himself avoid being investigated. How anybody could have paid for such an impossible service remains queer.

The plight of returning exiles forced them to seek financial support from friends and relatives. In the case of Shaik, Zuma solicited a loan based on friendship, with an undertaking to repay, which Zuma has started to do. The NPA decided to interpret this as a corrupt relationship. We are all learning that any agreement between friends needs now to be regulated by a legal document that will be acceptable in court in the future.

It is matter of public record that the Scorpions and NPA never had conclusive proof of alleged bribery but relied on questionable correspondence between Shaik and the officials of Thint — the so called “encrypted fax”. In all these manoeuvres, nothing has been shown by the NPA and Scorpions to point at Zuma’s involvement, knowledge or participation.

Hence, Ngcuka had to brief newspaper editors to convince the public of Zuma’s allegedly corrupt nature without having to prove this in court, as there was no evidence of any wrongdoing. The NPA had to use Shaik’s conviction to prove that Zuma was the other partner in crime without having to prove Zuma guilty by direct evidence.

Details of how the prosecution of Zuma would proceed and how its effect was used to canvass opinions on leadership succession were an open secret in ANC structures. Offers were made for Zuma to retire to Nkandla for the prosecution to be stopped. Clearly, these individuals grossly underestimated Zuma , the ANC leaders, the party and its members as well as the state as institution.

Party structures were not spared this onslaught. Often stories would circulate in social circles about impending deployments and removals from office. Certain individuals would boast of decisions that were subsequently implemented in the party. Even the issue of blocking Zuma from the Presidency was no secret. His coming dismissal was known about several months before the end of the Shaik trial. The appointment of his successor was discussed by people, who were not in leadership, before it happened.

This information circulated within ANC party circles but was
too embarrassing to share with the public, hence the version published in the media was left to appear as the gospel truth. Some party leaders strategically placed distorted information to promote their version to unsuspecting media houses, who felt privileged with the information they received.

The ANC observed this situation and started to rectify it. That is why, when the results of yesterday’s elections are known, the ANC will elect Zuma as state president with a clear conscience and clean heart. We shall look forward to the unfolding of the legal challenges of the opposition. Zuma has no case to answer.

Dr Mkhize is the KwaZulu-Natal chairman of the ANC and a member of the ANC’s national executive committee

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