OPINION: Zuma's day in court shows there's light at the end of the corruption tunnel

Former president Jacob Zuma testifying at the Commission of inquiry into state capture. (Felix Dlangamandla/Netwerk24)
Former president Jacob Zuma testifying at the Commission of inquiry into state capture. (Felix Dlangamandla/Netwerk24)

The significance of pursuing Zuma cannot be exaggerated. This will serve as affirmation of our democracy being governed by the rule of law, writes Tebogo Khaas.

The choreography of disgraced former president Jacob Zuma's comeuppance couldn't have been better scripted even for a big-budget Martin Scorsese thriller. 

Awful and dreary this epoch may be, there is light at the end of the Zuma-inspired tunnel of corruption.

Let me explain. 

On Friday, a full Bench of the Pietermaritzburg High Court unanimously dismissed Zuma's application for a permanent stay of prosecution for fraud, corruption and racketeering charges with costs. 

With this ominous edict, "The seriousness of the offences that Mr Zuma is facing outweighs any prejudice which he claims he will suffer if the trial proceeds. Furthermore, the reputational harm, which he claims to have suffered, goes hand in hand with being charged," the court thus dashed Zuma and co-accused French company Thales' hopes to evade prosecution on crimes allegedly committed 15 years ago.

This judgment coloured neatly a week in which his son Duduzane Zuma testified at the state capture commission; the US government imposed sanctions on Zuma's fellow economic hitmen – the Gupta family; and the Hawks attached assets belonging to one of his staunchest allies – ousted eThekwini executive mayor Zandile Gumede, who is currently battling corruption and racketeering charges. 

The Gupta family consists of Indian immigrant brothers Ajay, Atul and Rajesh. The trio is accused of masterminding the egregious looting of South Africa's state coffers and eroding its criminal justice capabilities. They fled the country and set up base in Dubai as the law enforcement noose tightened around them pursuant Zuma's ouster as president in 2018. 

Zuma is scheduled to appear alongside Thales when his trial resumes on Tuesday at the same court. In 2005, Zuma's former financial advisor Schabir Shaik was convicted for his involvement in some of the crimes that Zuma and Thales are alleged to have committed. 

Zuma was scheduled to conclude his aborted testimony at the state capture commission tomorrow and on Tuesday. Accordingly, his appearance at the commission was postponed.

Zuma trial to showcase how state capture germinated

Anyone who hopes that Zuma's trial will offer a searing, inside look at the corruption-infested arms deal may be disappointed. It will, however, provide insights on how state capture germinated.

Most of the evidence will be based on forensic accounting, including an encrypted fax document whose provenance and authenticity was a subject of fierce interlocutory applications during Shaik's trial.

Nonetheless, Zuma is expected to commandeer the platform provided by his criminal trial as backdrop for political lamentations as he scapegoats those he believes, rightly or wrongly, to be responsible for his woes. 

Quintessentially Zuma, he will never admit to his transgressions nor acknowledge his glaring shortcomings. 

To the political novices, Zuma's path to the Presidency was paved with blackmail, deceit and Machiavellian cobbles. He feigned political victimhood before, during and after his tenure as president. 

As the three judges aptly opined in their scathing ruling that despite ominous clouds hanging over his head for many years, this did "not seem to have prevented [Zuma] from ascending to the highest office in the country, being the President of the Republic".

With blazing alacrity, Zuma enlisted Duduzane as his proxy, and a prolific fixer that enabled state capture, as soon as he settled in at Mahlamba Ndlopfu. Thus Duduzane was ensnared in allegations of state capture. 

Zuma's "original sin" was to apparently accept a R500 000 annual bribe arranged through Shaik at the time Zuma was MEC for economic development and tourism in KwaZulu-Natal, prior to his stint as deputy president of the republic. 

The bribe was ostensibly to shield Thales, then known as Thint, from probable prosecution emanating from being implicated in the arms deal corruption. Although Zuma allegedly benefitted to a tune of R4m from Thales, Shaik was the only implicated party to be charged, subsequently convicted and sentenced for his role in soliciting the bribe.  

Dry-run for Zuma's mega heist

Most people regard Zuma's "original sin" – under Thales' tutelage – as a dry-run for the egregious mega heist he engineered upon his assumption of the levers of state power. 

They wonder if it was a coincidence that Thales' business fortunes in the public sector soared (the company's subsidiary, Gemalto, was awarded South Africa's lucrative national smart identity card contract) during Zuma's presidency, whilst a Gupta-linked company bagged the passport and visa applications processing contract.

It is difficult to counter assertions that an incestuous relationship between Zuma and Thales cultivated a gilded commercial path for Thales with the Department of Home Affairs to the detriment of suitably qualified, particularly black owned, local information communication technology companies. 

As the dots are joined, it's becoming crystal clear why capable black companies, with the right equipment, technology and expertise, were overlooked in favour of venal foreign owned multinationals. 

It is mind boggling that national interests and security considerations were seemingly subordinated to foreign owned entities' interests and for local politicians' personal financial gain.

Some pundits blame the National Prosecutions Authority's initial equivocation to charge Zuma alongside his alleged co-conspirator, Shaik, for the "nine wasted Zuma years".

Thales is alleged to have been amongst the original capturers of our nascent democracy through the corrupt multibillion arms procurement South Africa never needed, nor could afford. 

Thint's rebranding as Thales could thus be intended to mask its dark past. And so does Zuma's protestations of innocence, pleas of victimhood, and belated refashioning as an avatar of black economic emancipation. 

Whilst we welcome the US Department of Justice and US Treasury interventions regarding the fugitive Gupta family, the US must equally be consistent in their enforcement of the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, including the Magnitsky Act. 

Gupa-linked companies must suffer the same consequences

Multinational companies such as Thales, KPMG, McKinsey, China South Rail, Bain, SAP and China North Rail, that have, or alleged to have acted corruptly or enabled corruption in South Africa must suffer the same consequences as has recently been visited upon the Gupta-linked companies.

The significance of pursuing Zuma cannot be exaggerated. This will serve as affirmation of our democracy being governed by the rule of law.

Should the crucial nexus between seed capital used to construct Zuma's Nkandla compound and the flow of bribe monies be established, it surely shouldn't be legally impermissible to attach Nkandla just as the Hawks recently did with Gumede.

Never mind Zuma's "original sin", the day when the criminal justice system locks coordinates on Luthuli house and the parliamentary precinct in search of those implicated in the failed Vrede dairy project; descends upon Parys and Sandton to recover hundreds of millions intended to replace asbestos roofing in the Free State province; returns from Dubai and Hong Kong with repatriated billions pilfered from Transnet and Eskom; bulldozes through Nkandla village in search of ill-gotten hundreds of millions misappropriated from the Masibambisane agricultural project; saunters into Stellenbosch and Hermanus to reclaim the Steinhoff loot;  and hovers above Hyde Park and Thohoyandou via Seshego to recover monies looted from the VBS Mutual Bank, shall we have reason to believe that a new dawn is upon us. 

I hate to be the one raining on the parade celebrating green shoots from a slowly reviving criminal justice system but it could be a long time before Zuma, his son Duduzane, the Gupta brothers, and their acolytes account for their alleged malfeasance. 

Meanwhile, South Africans must rejoice with Zuma for ultimately being granted his long-cherished "day in court".

Zuma is a profligate litigant, especially if state coffers are on the hook. Only the naive will think that his financial and political tank to fight is empty.

Perhaps as the vestiges of Zuma's "nine wasted years" seem stubbornly stuck in the fabric of our body politic, it may be apposite to remind one another that the darkest hour is always before dawn. 

- Khaas is a businessman; founder and convenor of Public Interest SA, a public benefit organisation that protects and advances constitutionalism. 

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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