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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 June, 2005, 15:38 GMT 16:38 UK
What Shaik verdict means for South Africa
Justin Pearce
BBC News, Johannesburg

Schabir Shaik
Could Shaik take his friend Zuma down with him?
For Schabir Shaik sitting in court, and for South African Deputy President Jacob Zuma watching from afar, the verdict was as bad as it could be.

And the rest of South Africa is only starting to digest the implications of a judgement that will have far reaching consequences for the country's future leadership, for the ruling party, for the power of the judiciary, and for the health of South Africa's young democracy.

Mr Shaik's conviction raises serious questions about the conduct of his friend and associate, Mr Zuma.

The Shaik case has its roots in an investigation into corrupt practices surrounding a R6bn ($1bn) arms procurement deal by the South African government.

During the course of that investigation, in 2003, Mr Zuma denied that he had attempted to secure a bribe from the French arms company Thales, which has since become Thomson CSF.

Prosecutors confident

That same incident was a key part of the case against Mr Shaik - and the court found that Mr Shaik had indeed solicited the bribe on behalf of the deputy president.

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) says it now feels vindicated in pressing charges against Mr Shaik, in the face of pressure from the government - and, buoyed by the Shaik conviction, prosecutors may now seek answers to some of the many other unanswered questions surrounding the arms deal.

Many of those who watched the Shaik trial on television or waited outside the court were half expecting that a guilty verdict would lead immediately to charges being investigated against the deputy president.

Biding time

But the law never moves that fast. In an impromptu press briefing on the courthouse steps, NPA spokesman Makhosini Nkosi refused to be drawn on whether proceedings would be initiated against Mr Zuma.

Democratic Alliance: Motion of no confidence in Zuma
ANC: Verdict affirms rule of law
Independent Democrats: Zuma should be investigated
Inkatha Freedom Party: Regrets Zuma could not defend himself
African Christian Democratic Party: Zuma must resign

"The National Director of Public Prosecutions will need time to consider the judgement and whether anything is to be said about it - that will be done," Mr Nkosi said.

Any legal action against Mr Zuma would involve a fresh consideration of the evidence that has been painstakingly aired in court over the past 10 months.

The government and the ANC are likely to wait to see whether the prosecution moves against Mr Zuma before they themselves take any action.

Tricky position

Until then, the government and the party are in a tricky position. The government issued a reaction within an hour of the verdict, apparently hedging its bets.

It welcomed the conduct of the trial as a sign of "the maturity of our democracy", and pointed out that Mr Zuma was not on trial.

Jacob Zuma (l) and President Thabo Mbeki (r)
Zuma (l) had been the favourite to succeed Mbeki (r)
However, it pointed out that the verdict had "a number of implications for government" that would "require considered reflection" and said that "the deputy president in particular" would be studying the judgement before commenting.

Opposition party reaction has varied from the Democratic Alliance tabling a motion of no confidence in the deputy president, to the Inkatha Freedom Party regretting that Mr Zuma had no opportunity to clear his name in court.

But the ANC, with its two-thirds parliamentary majority, is more than able to weather criticism in parliament, at least until the prosecutors have made a decision.

More important for the party is the support for Mr Zuma within its own ranks. A far more charismatic character than President Thabo Mbeki, Mr Zuma has a solid following among the ANC Youth League and the trade unions, and in his home region: the politically volatile and fiercely contested province of KwaZulu-Natal.

Now that a Zuma succession is no longer a certainty, a contest for succession to the ANC leadership and, hence, the presidency, is going to start behind the scenes.

But the ANC will keep quiet for now. Unless, of course, Mr Zuma resigns of his own accord - and at the moment, no one is putting any money on that.

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
Country profile: South Africa
17 May 05 |  Country profiles

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