President Jacob Zuma depended on benefactors to fund a lifestyle – report
The 490-page study lays bare the scale of Mr Zuma’s reliance on numerous benefactors – including Nelson Mandela who sent him R1m (£72,000) – in the period when he was deputy president until 2005. Chief among the donors was Schabir Shaik, a Durban businessman who served as his financial adviser and was sent to prison for paying Mr Zuma in return for favours.
The audit, prepared by the accountancy firm KPMG, would have formed a central plank of the case against Mr Zuma if he had stood trial for 16 counts of alleged corruption, fraud, tax evasion and racketeering. He always protested his innocence and, in the event, all the charges were dropped shortly before he became president in 2009, so the case was never tested in court.
The study, leaked to the “Mail and Guardian”, a South African weekly, details how Mr Zuma received 783 separate payments from Shaik or the businessman’s company, totalling over Rand 4 million (£288,000).
As for what Shaik might have expected in return, the High Court convicted him of corruption in 2005. Referring to the payments to Mr Zuma, Mr Justice Hilary Squires ruled: “No sane or rational businessman would conduct his business on such a basis without expecting some benefit from it”. the judge added: “Zuma did in fact intervene to try and assist Shaik’s business interests.” Shaik, for his part, argued that the payments were only loans designed to help an old friend.
Mr Zuma’s dependence on businessmen and friends went even further than had been thought, according to the report. It discloses that Mr Zuma was incapable of managing his own finances, leaving a trail of terrible credit ratings, overdrawn bank accounts and unpaid credit card bills.
“Generally, the financial position of Zuma deteriorated over time,” reads the report, adding that his own “lifestyle” and the demands of his “immediate family and other individuals” meant that “Zuma’s cash requirements by far exceeded his ability to fund such requirements from his salary”.
Shaik and many others came to the rescue. Mr Mandela himself was a benefactor, sending a cheque for R1m (£72,000) a few days after Mr Zuma had been sacked as deputy president in 2005. A French arms company, Thomson-CSF, later renamed Thales, also paid Mr Zuma R250,000 (£18,000).
The report “paints the most detailed and distressing picture available of a kept politician, not just unable, but unwilling to live within his means, dependent on an array of benefactors to fund his lifestyle and willing to grant some of them favours in return,” said the Mail and Guardian.
The African National Congress (ANC) will almost certainly re-elect Mr Zuma as its leader when the party gathers for a conference on Dec 16. This almost assures him of a second term as the country’s president when the next election is held in 2014.
Allies of the president said that little new evidence had emerged and hinted at a plot to derail the ANC conference. Mac Maharaj, spokesman for Mr Zuma, said: “Much of the information that is being headlined seems to have been in the public arena already, from the Schabir Shaik trial. I’m finding it strange that it is coming up now, in this fashion.”
But the opposition Democratic Alliance, which has urged an inquiry into how the charges against Mr Zuma were dropped, demanded that the president take leave of absence until his name was cleared.
The report also shows how Mr Zuma’s benefactors paid for the first improvements to his home in Nkandla in rural KwaZulu-Natal province. It has since emerged that £15 million of public money was spent on upgrading this homestead after he became president. Mr Zuma says this was necessary for security reasons relating to his official position. This week, he told the Daily Telegraph: “There is a racial mentality that an African cannot build a house, a comfortable house. I’ve been building there for years. This is a family building.”