South Africa’s federation of trade unions, SAFTU has welcomed the decision by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to prosecute former president Jacob Zuma on16 charges of corruption, money laundering and racketeering in connection with the controversial multimillion-rand arms deal scandal in the late 1990s.
According to general secretary of South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU), Zwelinzima Vavi, “at long last, the tide has turned against a political leader who bankrupted the nation through his systematic looting of the country to enrich himself, his family and his cronies at the expense of the people, especially workers and the poor.”
In a statement released Vavi added that, “while Zuma, the Guptas and Co amassed millions of rands, the poor faced soaring unemployment, deepening poverty and obscene level of inequality.”
On Friday, the NPA charged Zuma in the case related to the 783 questionable payments allegedly received in connection with a controversial multibillion-rand arms deal in the late 1990s. Shaun Abrahams of NPA said that there are "reasonable prospects of a successful prosecution" in Zuma's case.
The weapon deal refers to one of the largest exercises by the government of Nelson Mandela in mid-1990s to modernise the country's defence forces. This involved the purchase of naval vessels, submarines, fighter jets and other equipment from European nations, and the deal totalled 30 billion rands, or between $3 billion to $5 billion at the time. Zuma’s close associate during his tenure as deputy president, South African businessman Schabir Shaik was found guilty in 2005 of accepting a bribe from Think, the local subsidiary of French arms firm Thales, on behalf of Zuma. Apart from Shaik, Tony Yengeni, who was chairman of parliament's defence committee at the time of the deal and chief whip of the ANC, was convicted of fraud in 2003 in relation to the arms deal.
According to the source, Zuma used legal manoeuvres and the power to avoid prosecution for years, and the charges were previously dropped in 2009 just before Zuma was sworn in as President.
SAFTU said that Zuma also corrupted public institutions - the NPA, SARS, the Hawks - whose constitutional rule should years ago have been enforcing the constitution and the law by prosecuting the corrupters, but who used their positions to do everything possible to protect the people they should have been arresting.
“The arms deal was the most graphic loss of innocence of post-apartheid South Africa and it presaged the corruption we are seeing today,” said David Lewis, the executive director of Corruption Watch, a nonprofit organization based in Johannesburg. “This is the first time we are seeing accountability in the arms deal.”
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Last month, with mounting pressure from various corners, Zuma resigned from his presidency and paved for his deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa to become the President.
The SAFTU noted that the African National Congress (ANC) must take responsibility for protecting former president Jacob Zuma against attempts to bring him to justice.
“It was only the mass campaign from below, and the threat of the ANC losing power 2019 that finally forced the ANC and its current president, Cyril Ramaphosa, to end their silence and opportunistically reinvent themselves as the crusaders against corruption,” said Vavi.
“They have yet to explain their years of silence on the question.”
Referring to the decision of the NPA, SAFTU noted that the prosecution is an epic victory for the unions, social movements and ordinary citizens who have for years been demanding action against these criminals.
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SAFTU said that the corruption is not just a crime by a limited number of individuals, but an inherent feature of monopoly capitalism, the very system, which has made the new president a multi-billionaire. “It is important not to see this NPA decision to be the end of the campaign against corruption, we still wait to see if Zuma and all his allies are going to be charged with all the other alleged crimes uncovered by the former Public Protector, the GuptaLeaks emails and Jacques Pauw’s ‘The State of Capture’."
Who are Guptas?
Guptas arrived from India in the 1990s and set up a small computer business and now have become the one of the most powerful business group with stakes in uranium, gold and coal mines, a luxury game lodge, an engineering company, a newspaper and a 24-hour TV news station. Zuma is said to have a close association with powerful Gupta business empire of South Africa, controlled by three brothers Atul, Ajay and Rajesh Gupta.
(Image Courtesy: Zapiro)
According to critics, Gupta family has considerable influence in Zuma’s government leading to the allegations of ‘state capture’. In one such case, the Gupta family was allowed to use the Waterkloof air force base in 2013 to fly in their 200 odd guests for a family wedding. The guests also received a full police escort to the Sun City resort for the four-day wedding of 23-year-old Vega Gupta.