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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 June, 2005, 11:18 GMT 12:18 UK
Why Shaik case grips South Africa
By Justin Pearce
BBC News, Johannesburg

South African Deputy President Jacob Zuma
Zuma is not on trial but his political future is under threat
South Africans have been enthralled by the fraud and corruption trial of Shabir Shaik, the financial adviser to Deputy President Jacob Zuma, which has lasted some 10 months.

Shaik was found guilty on two charges of corruption and one of fraud.

One charge concerns what the prosecution calls a "generally corrupt" relationship between Mr Shaik and Mr Zuma.

A further charge concerns allegations that Mr Shaik solicited a bribe of R500,000 ($90,000) from French arms company Thomson CSF on behalf of the deputy president, in order to facilitate the company's dealings in South Africa.

The fraud charge involves the financial management of Mr Shaik's Nkobi group of companies.

Personality

Mr Shaik's colourful personality has doubtless contributed to the media fascination with the trial, which began in October 2004.

News photographs of his ear-to-ear grin outside the courtroom have become as common of those of his furious scowl.

On one occasion while testifying he reportedly did a passable impersonation of Nelson Mandela's voice.

But quite aside from the accused's antics, the two corruption charges have gripped the attention of the South African public since they involve accusations that cast a shadow over the highest levels of government - particularly since Mr Zuma is seen as a likely successor to President Thabo Mbeki.

Shabir Shaik
Shabir Shaik is a close friend and confidante of Jacob Zuma

The Shaik trial stems from an investigation headed by the then chief prosecutor, Bulelani Ngcuka.

In 2003, as the investigation drew to a close, Mr Ngcuka said that while there was prima facie evidence against Mr Zuma, he would not press charges against him since he was not sure that there was "a winnable case".

Mr Zuma angrily condemned his "trial by media" and said he had been denied the chance to clear his name in court.

At one point in the current trial, there was speculation that Mr Zuma might be called upon to testify in Mr Shaik's defence.

One commentator argued that only the deputy president would be able to confirm Mr Shaik's version of events, which had been contradicted on certain crucial points by the evidence of some other witnesses.

But in the end, Mr Zuma was not called to the witness stand.

Implications

Although - as Mr Zuma's supporters are quick to point out - the deputy president himself is not on trial, if Mr Shaik were to be convicted on either or both of the corruption charges, then Mr Zuma would be faced with some awkward questions.

High-level corruption in South Africa is nothing new, but a freer press since 1994 has made graft more visible than it ever was under apartheid.

At the same time, Mr Zuma retains strong support among key sectors of the governing ANC, and his supporters have reacted angrily to suggestions that the case being brought against Mr Shaik reflects badly on the deputy president.

History could come to judge the Shaik trial as a defining moment in South Africa's young democracy: Is South Africa to be a place where high officials can keep their reputation intact, regardless of association with sleaze?




SEE ALSO:
Guilty verdict in SA graft case
02 Jun 05 |  Africa
Zuma resignation calls rejected
18 Sep 03 |  Africa
Case dropped against SA's Zuma
23 Aug 03 |  Africa
SA arms probe 'despicable'
28 Jul 03 |  Africa


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