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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 November 2006, 16:30 GMT
SA media misrepresent Shaik trial
By Peter Biles
BBC Southern Africa correspondent

Schabir Shaik
Shaik's appeal against a 15-year sentence failed in November
The South African media is in a political storm for misquoting a judge in the trial of the former financial adviser to the ex-ANC deputy president.

Judge Hilary Squires was falsely reported as describing the relationship between the ANC's Jacob Zuma and Schabir Shaik as "generally corrupt".

The misquote was repeated many times in the media since the 2005 trial despite Judge Squires' efforts to correct it.

The scandal casts doubts over any potential retrial of Mr Zuma.

Shaik has just begun a 15-year sentence after failing to overturn his conviction on appeal.

Following Shaik's imprisonment, Judge Squires pointed out to the media that he had not referred to "a generally corrupt relationship" between Mr Zuma and Shaik when handing down judgement in Shaik's corruption trial in the Durban High Court last year.

Over the last 17 months, this phrase has been widely used to refer to the connection between Shaik and Mr Zuma.

Appeal court

However, Judge Squires has insisted that the words never appeared in the judgement, and twice this year he has written to the press to try to rectify the misquotation.

The judgement does say there was evidence of "a mutually beneficial symbiosis" between the two men, adding that the payments by Shaik to Mr Zuma "can only have generated a sense of obligation in the recipient".

The reason why this has become such a damaging incident is because last week, five judges from the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein, compounded the error by also attributing the key words to Judge Squires when dismissing Shaik's appeal against his conviction and sentence.

This suggested that the Appeal Court judges had not actually read Judge Squire's original judgement.

Press apology

It has been something of a mystery how Judge Squires was incorrectly quoted, but it is thought that at one stage in the Shaik trial, the phrase - "a generally corrupt relationship" - may have been used by the prosecution team.

Jacob Zuma
Corruption proceedings against Mr Zuma were thrown out

The national daily, Business Day, led the way in apologising to the judge this week.

In an editorial, the paper said: "We owe Squires and our readers an apology. We should have known he never said any such thing.

"It is incredible that the entire body politic in SA swallowed the myth that Squires had indeed uttered those words".

However, the case has raised new questions about whether Mr Zuma can now get a fair trial, if he is recharged by the National Prosecuting Authority, in the wake of his former adviser, Schabir Shaik going to prison.

In September, a corruption case against Mr Zuma was struck off the roll by the High Court in Pietermaritzburg.

The governing African National Congress said this week that it accepted and supported the decision of President Thabo Mbeki to dismiss Mr Zuma from the government following "due consideration of the ruling in the Shaik trial".

However, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) which is one of Mr Zuma's strongest allies, has called for his reinstatement as South Africa's deputy president.

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