Jacob Zuma wanted immunity to testify at Schabir Shaik trial

Former president Jacob Zuma is facing charges of corruption. / THULI DLAMINI
Former president Jacob Zuma is facing charges of corruption. / THULI DLAMINI

Former president Jacob Zuma's last-ditch application to stop his corruption prosecution from going ahead does not appear to pose any real threat to the state's plans to put him on trial this year.

It does, however, contain one very damaging admission that may be used against him if and when he goes on trial.

For the first time, Zuma has revealed why he chose not to testify in the trial of his former financial adviser Schabir Shaik, who was convicted in 2005 of corrupting him with multiple payments and benefits, and facilitating a R500,000 a year bribe for him from French arms company Thales.

Zuma has argued for years that he should have been tried with Shaik, but has now told the Constitutional Court he would only have taken the stand in the case if he was guaranteed immunity from prosecution.

“Absent an unequivocal grant of immunity by the NPA to me it would have been ill-conceived and highly risky for me to testify for Shaik without waiving my guaranteed constitutional rights, including rights to silence and against self-incrimination,” Zuma states.

This is an extraordinary admission, and opens Zuma up to questions about whether he believes his conduct in relation to Shaik, and any evidence he may have given in the case, would have implicated him in corruption. Immunity from prosecution is only granted in circumstances where a witness admits complicity in an alleged crime, and gives honest evidence about it.

Zuma's apparent candour on this score stands in marked contrast to the relatively restrained submissions he made to the Supreme Court of Appeal, in his failed bid to challenge the Pietermaritzburg high court's dismissal of his application for a permanent stay of prosecution. His Constitutional Court application demonstrates either a radical and more desperate change in Zuma's legal strategy, or profound incoherence in the way his lawyers are pursuing his case.

In a 115-page application filed at the Constitutional Court, Zuma has also launched a renewed attack on the “vicious” National Prosecuting Authority, who he blames for his “routine” portrayal as “a corrupt politician who accepts bribes”.

Zuma slams the “despicable” conduct of former national director of public prosecutions Bulelani Ngcuka, who, against the advice of the Shaik prosecutors, elected not to charge the then deputy president with Shaik. Ngcuka stated at the time that, although there was a “prima facie” case against Zuma, it was not necessarily a winnable one.

“In the media and the court of public opinion, I was tarred and feathered as a criminal suspect but I could never disprove that label as I was never formally brought before a court of law until 2005 or told what evidence exists to justify the label,” Zuma argues.

“This is hearkening to the dark days of apartheid where anti-apartheid activists in South Africa could be labelled communists, placed under house arrest or suffer other indignities based on the say-so of a government minister.”

Zuma repeatedly stresses that, because he was not charged with Shaik, “I as an unindicted person was and continue to be branded as a criminal with all the accompanying damage to my reputation”.

He adds that “because of the nature of this case, the unindicted co-conspirator is labelled as 'corrupt politician' who takes bribes and ethnic stereotypes such as 'being controlled by Indians' were invoked, thus multiplying any damage done to my name”.

Zuma further blames Ngcuka for all the multiple efforts to remove him from office, during his nine years as president. " ... As far as political discourse on the issue is concerned, the media and opposition political parties treat me as though I am guilty of the crimes that I was not charged with by Mr Ngcuka.

" ... Even if I am acquitted, the significant taint left by the NPA's accusations of wrongdoing may never wash entirely clean as I will always be considered a public servant who failed the test of revolutionary morality.”