THE JUDGE AT SCHABIR SHAIK’S TRIAL had described Shaik’s relationship with South African President Jacob Zuma—when Zuma was deputy president (1995-2005)—as “shady”. Other South Africans had just shaken their heads and repeated an old racist trope: “Everyone has their Indian.”
Shaik, a Durban businessman of Indian origin, had linked himself to the African National Congress’s (ANC) power structures through Zuma, the party’s unlikely rising star. Zuma, in the meantime, was covering his business assets using Shaik’s financial advice—until, that is, Shaik was convicted in 2005 of corruption and fraud related to arms deals. While Shaik was reviled for having paid ‘retainers’ (in the form of unspecified loans) to Zuma as investments in the political influence the businessman hoped to wield, Zuma—who had been dismissed from his position two weeks after Shaiks’ conviction, went on to become president in 2009.
The saga of this odd couple shed light on the dubious deals that prospered when ANC members established semi-official relationships with local business tycoons.