Although South African President Thabo Mbeki has another four years left in office, the issue of who should succeed him flared up last week. The chatter came after the Durban High Court convicted Schabir Shaik, a friend and financial adviser to Deputy President Jacob Zuma, on fraud and corruption charges.
After a riveting eight-month trial and a three-day verdict broadcast live on television and radio, Judge Hillary Squires found Shaik guilty on all three charges against him. Squires announced Shaik had paid some $180,000 to Zuma in bribes between 1995 and 2001 in order to keep in the Deputy President's good books and gain advantages for his company, and had also brokered a bribe between Zuma and a French arms-trading company. Squires said there was "overwhelming" evidence of a corrupt relationship between Shaik and Zuma. His sentencing is expected soon.
Zuma was not on trial and did not appear as a witness; he says an earlier investigation showed he has no case to answer. It's unclear whether authorities will yet charge him with wrongdoing. In any case, Zuma's downfall has hurt his chances of becoming the next President. Squires said in his ruling that Zuma, who has strong support from unions and the left wing of the ruling African National Congress (A.N.C.) party, must have been aware of bribes sought by Shaik on his behalf.
"He's now a risk to the government in terms of perception," says William Gumede, author of a recent book on President Mbeki and the A.N.C. But the silver lining to the scandal, says Gumede, is that the judgment showed "the system worked. It's a very important psychological step for South Africa: proof that no one no matter who they know is above the law."