Day one of former president Jacob Zuma’s testimony before the Zondo commission of inquiry into allegations of state capture was characterised by conspiracy theories, outright denials of allegations by witnesses and impassioned pleas to South Africans to place themselves in his shoes.
In addition, the former president was at times hostile and his legal team lay in wait on the sidelines ready to jump in and interject whenever they felt the proceedings were “biased” against their client.
The former first statesman kick proceedings off by claiming that there was a coordinated attempt at discrediting him and tarnishing his name.
Zuma alleged that there were three – two foreign and one local – intelligence organisations tirelessly working towards “assassinating” his character.
He claimed that these attacks on his good name had spanned over a period of 20 years and had in recent times manifested in him being hauled before numerous commissions of inquiry.
How the ‘coordinated attacks’ on Zuma’s character started
The genesis of these attacks, claimed the man from Nkandla, were as a result of him having occupied the role of the ANC’s highest ranking intelligence officer in the lead up to the country gaining its independence.
“In 1990 we received an intelligence report saying there were three intelligence organisations which met to discuss me and at that meeting had formulated a plan to assassinate may character.”
“The reasons given for trying to assassinate my character was because I had a lot of information that I held as a chief of intelligence. They then took a decision that Zuma must be removed as the leader of the ANC from that point,” he testified.
He made it clear that it was not only foreign intelligence but also his own comrades within the ANC who were out to get him.
Connecting the dots on the 20-year vilification crusade which these mostly unnamed forces had embarked on, the former president pointed at the arms deal procument saga – the current corruption case he is fighting in the Pietermaritzburg division of the High Court – as a clear example of how he has been singled out for blame.
The arms deal was just another plot to tarnish his image, Zuma said.
He told the commission that it made no logical sense that he was the only one singled out at the time given that he was “not even a national political figure” but only a provincial player.
Zuma questioned how all those “at national level who signed off on the deal escaped prosecution” but he, 16 years later, was still caught up in legal battles.
He went on to suggest that it was unfathomable that he could possibly get a fair evaluation from the state capture inquiry as it has been created “just to find things” on him.
He stopped just short of branding the commission a direct instrument of the co-conspirators working behind the scenes to bring him down.
“There has been a drive to remove me from the scene, a wish that I should disappear … And it arises perhaps out of my work in the ANC and also because of who I am. This conspiracy against me has been stretched at all material times. This commission was created to just find things on me.”
To back up the serious allegations he was making against the very commission he constituted in January last year, Zuma questioned why former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela in her recommendations that the commission be constituted “stripped” him of his executive power to appoint the person to chair the commission – a privilege she assigned to Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng.
Zuma challenged Madonsela and in December 2017 the High Court ruling that he should personally pay the costs of his failed attempt to stop the release of the “State of Capture” report by the former Public Protector.
In so doing, the ruling validated Madonsela’s recommendation that since the president was implicated, the chief justice could participate in the process of establishing the commission of inquiry.
Zuma – who enjoyed cheers and at times rounds of applause from the packed public gallery which included his son Duzuzane Zuma, allies such as former finance minister David van Rooyen and former North West premier Supra Mahumapelo, former communications minister Faith Muthambi and MKMVA spokesperson Carl Niehaus – persisted in his argument that the “conspiracy” against him has “come in different forms”.
Plot to kill him
To the bemusement of most at the packed commission venue in Parktown, Zuma described a coordinated plot to kill him in March this year during the Maskandi fill up the Moses Mabhida Stadium event in Durban.
“The plan to kill me in Durban was detailed and involved many people – some even brought from outside the country,” he said.
The individuals brought in were “suicide bombers”, Zuma claimed, and were meant to carry out the assassination during the Maskandi show.
“This matter is bigger than what meets the eye,” he said.
He explained that he had been motivated to break his silence because of the pain that “the lies spewed” by witnesses who have implicated him had caused his family and “severely affected” them.
How his family was affected
Zuma detailed how his son Mxolisi ‘Saady’ Zuma had lost his job as a result of a company he was working for “asking him to leave” because other companies would not do business with it because of the young Zuma being in their ranks.
He also spoke of how his other son, Duduzane, had unsuccessfully sought employment in government and failed to get a job because of being Zuma’s son – an ordeal that led him to “go to the Guptas seeking employment”.
Zuma pleaded with the commission to try and see things from his perspective, even going as far as saying that “because he was once a soldier” he could deal with the relentless attacks but his family – particularly his children – had been severely affected.
From the onset, Zuma’s legal representative Muzi Sikhakhane made it clear to the commission chairperson, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, that his client was testifying “under protest” due to the commission’s legal team treating “other witnesses like sweethearts” while others like Zuma were vilified.
These sentiments came as a result of the commission’s legal team not buckling to pressure from Zuma’s legal team to send the exact questions that the former president was going to be asked during the proceedings.
Claims of unfair treatment
Zuma echoed the same sentiments during his testimony as he questioned why there was so much polarisation when it came to him.
He said former presidents Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki as well as other prominent ANC politicians enjoyed close relationships with the Gupta family and yet they did not face the same public scrutiny he did.
He did not understand why people scrutinised his relationship with the Guptas when their relationship with Mbeki was “more stronger” whereas his was purely “just friends”.
The former statesman is set to resume his testimony on Tuesday morning.