Former president Jacob Zuma claimed on Monday he was the victim of character assassination and murder plots, and hit out at “spies” in the ANC and abroad for engineering his downfall.Making his much-anticipated appearance before the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture on Monday, Zuma suggested that the commission was being used as a final nail in his coffin. “This commission, according to those who are implementing things, must be the grave of Zuma, he must be buried here,” he said.Zuma was invited by the chairperson, Judge Raymond Zondo, to come and tell his side of the story after nine witnesses implicated him in the alleged looting of state funds.“I never thought I’d be nasty to people and I think I can be nasty [now]. I’ve been over provoked,” said Zuma.The spiesThe former president told the commission that the plot to get him dated back to his days as the chief intelligence officer of the ANC. This was before the unbanning of the organisation in 1990. This conspiracy, according to him, was part of the joint operation between three intelligence agencies, one from South Africa and two from the United States.He claimed the ANC was infiltrated by spies who were working for the apartheid regime and the intelligence agencies, like former Mineral Resources minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi, and were still in operation.“They remain with us and they are amongst with us, therefore they are having bosses, they are handled to do things, that’s why some of them are rushing to come here because they found a platform to deal with Zuma.”He said he has known about who the spies were for more than two decades but “behaved” and never made the information public before because he thought they had changed their ways, but it was obvious to him that they were still being “handled”.“What made Comrade Ngoako to behave the way he did here, saying I’ve auctioned the country, in the NEC [national executive committee] I do what I like, he was carrying out an instruction.”He said some of the spies within the ANC were feeding the media and authors like Redi Tlhabi falsehoods about him. Veteran journalist Tlhabi is author of Khwezi: The remarkable story of Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo. The book is about the alleged 2005 rape that the late Kuzwayo suffered at the hands of Zuma, who was later acquitted.The GuptasZuma denied that there was anything untoward about his relationship with the Gupta family. He admitted the he was the one who suggested they should establish a newspaper and a television station to offer “an alternative narrative” because the South African media always carried negative stories.“I’m told that they were appointing ministers. Where did they come in? Why they should do so? Was I not capable of doing my work that I needed other people?” said Zuma.He said Thabo Mbeki and Nelson Mandela were also friends with the Guptas but no one ever accused them of engaging in unlawful activities with the controversial family.“I never did anything unlawful with them, they just remained friends.”He said he consulted the ANC leadership on all the cabinet appointments that he made.Character assassinationZuma said he had never did anything wrong during his presidency but there was always some fishing expeditions because the plotters wanted to get rid of him. He said they used the courts and the office of the former public protector, Thuli Madonsela, to try and pin something on him.He said when he was fired as the deputy president in 2005, then head of state Mbeki apparently said “Zuma must have his day in court”.At the time Zuma had been implicated in corruption during the Durban high court trial of his former financial adviser, Schabir Shaik. However, on Monday he said he was surprised by Mbeki’s choice of words as he had not been charged.“I have so much been vilified by the world and everyone that I’m the most corrupt person.”Zuma said negative reports about him and being dragged in and out of courts fitted with the plan to assassinate his character.He said his family had been negatively affected by the lies spread about him. Two of his sons were even denied employment opportunities because of who their father was, he said.Attempts on his lifeZuma said attempts on his life included being poisoned and he believed all of them stemmed from the joint intelligence operation.His estranged wife, Nompumelelo Ntuli-Zuma, is a suspect in a protracted investigation into an alleged attempt to poison Zuma in 2015.He said suicide bombers were flown into the country in December to kill him during Khuzani Mpungose’s maskandi festival, which was held at Durban’s Moses Mabhida Stadium. He said he did not go to the event after finding out what had been planned.UnfairnessZuma’s lawyer, Advocate Muzi Sikhakhane, said his client had been treated unfairly by the commission. He said he could not even prepare Zuma for the questions he was asked during cross examination because the commission’s team had not shared them with his office. Sikhakhane said the commission “treat certain witnesses as sweethearts and others as accused”.Zuma is expected to continue his testimony on Tuesday. The commission has set aside the whole week for him.