Defend Truth


For Shaik, friends are few and days are dark


Khadija Patel pushes words on street corners. She is passionate about the protection and enhancement of global media as a public good and is the head of programmes at the International Fund for Public Interest Media. She is the former editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian in South Africa, a co-founder of the youth-driven, award-winning digital news startup The Daily Vox and a vice-chairperson of the Vienna-based International Press Institute. As a journalist she has produced work for Sky News, Al Jazeera, The Guardian, Quartz, City Press and Daily Maverick, among others. She is also a research associate at WISER (Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Witwatersrand). 

For a time taxi drivers had taken to the slogan: “When days are dark, friends are few”, festooning the rear windshields of their minibuses with it.  A profound refrain that invited deep introspection on the vagaries of friendship and, though the slogan has long since faded, for fraudster Schabir Shaik, the old taxi refrain rings uncomfortably true.

Separated from his wife, deserted by his old chum Jacob Zuma and ostracised by the ANC top brass, Shaik cuts a forlorn figure in Durban these days.  It is his estrangement from the ANC and Zuma Shaik is said to feel most acutely and, like a jilted lover, he lives desperately in the hope of rekindling what once was.

This week, Shaik emerged as an unlikely paragon of reconciliation as he refused to lay charges against a group of men who, he claims, assaulted him on the Papwa Sewgolum golf course in Durban.  According to Shaik, he suffered the attack for being a “kaffir-lover” and supporting the ANC. There is  no corroborating evidence of the assault beyond Shaik’s own account to the Sunday Times.  Despite his protestations of the failure of onlookers to come to his aid, witnesses to the assault have not been traced. 

If Shaik is to believed, he was in the clubhouse after a round of golf when he overheard a group of men “talking ill of the ANC and Zuma”. “They were talking very loudly so I could hear them. They were drunk too,” Shaik told the Sunday Times. “They called the president the k-word. I said to them I could not bear to listen to this … and told them to stop. I told them I have been in the struggle for a long time and we don’t refer to the president or other human beings by the k-word,” said Shaik. It was then that the assailants “got stuck into him”.  Shaik explains his reluctance to lay charges against his attackers behind a fear that  “correctional services would not hear both sides of the story”.

This is a different Shaik to the one who so boldly in 2009 said to the CityPress that he wants a  “fucking pardon”. This is a more demure Shaik desperately seeking the attention of his chum in the Union Buildings.

Earlier this year Shaik was summoned by the parole board after his alleged attack on a Durban journalist at the same golf course. Shaik, it’s alleged, grabbed the journalist by the throat, slapped her on both cheeks and asked her if she was a “terrorist”. A month after that incident, Shaik allegedly came to fisticuffs with an accountant over a parking space. The accountant did not press charges, but Shaik was made to feel the might of the parole board when he was arrested and investigated for allegedly violating his parole conditions. After no wrongdoing could be proved, Shaik was released to prance around the fairways of his neighbourhood golf course again. At the time, at least one commentator felt it was “possible that Schabir Shaik’s alleged violent outbursts  were the rantings of an attention-seeker who feels abandoned by a dear friend”. And rant Shaik certainly can. Last year at a book signing of Azad Essa’s “Zuma’s Bastard” at the Gateway Mall in Durban, Shaik confronted Essa about the title of the book. As Essa began explaining how the tongue was planted in the cheek of the title, Shaik interrupted him. “Yes, maybe I should have just let the Zulus kill the Indians and the whites, back then,” he said. According to Essa, Shaik went on to claim he “wasted time going to jail and negotiating”. On the strength of this interaction it may well be argued that Shaik is suffering from a bad case of delusion, on top of his high blood pressure, but what is clear is that when it comes to the Zuma name, Shaik displays a compulsion to chime in and assert his authority on the subject. 

And yet Shaik has not spoken or seen the venerable president since Zuma’s inauguration as president on 9 May 2009. Top ANC leaders, it’s said, have strongly advised Zuma to have nothing to do with Shaik and, according to the Sunday Times, Shaik has become increasingly bitter at being abandoned by his former comrade-in-arms and now leads a solitary life with little contact from ANC members. While the president’s lawyer, Michael Hulley, has dismissed talk of Zuma abandoning  Shaik, explaining,  “Because of the demands of the presidency, in particular, and government, in general, many of the president’s personal relationships have suffered. The president’s schedule simply does not permit him to call on friends and acquaintances, much as he may like to do so, and in Shaik’s case, the president has done so as and when his schedule permits.”

Left in the cold by Zuma and the ANC, Shaik can still count on the likes of attorney and journalist, Shabnam Palesa Mohamed and “longtime comrade” Krish Dudhraj. The pair head the “Free Shaik Now” campaign that seeks a presidential pardon for Shaik. According to the campaign, Shaik is a victim of a political conspiracy hatched by former president Mbeki to thwart Zuma’s designs on the presidency. And not alone has Mbeki conspired against Shaik, but the naughty, naughty media and the DA colluded to try Shaik across the front pages thus denying him a fair trial. 

Attempts to reach Mohamed for comment have been met by her own set of questions on my motivation for writing about the Free Shaik campaign. “Why do you want to write this story? Do you think you can be fair and objective? What’s your view on how media have depicted SS (Schabir Shaik) in its reporting thus far?” she asked. Dudhraj was similarly intractable, requesting a face-to-face meeting instead of a phone or email interview. On explaining that I was based in Johannesburg, Dudhraj responded (via SMS), “When u come to durbs than (sic) we’ll meet. Theres (sic) a lot of spooks around! Bye.” The ANC may now treat Shaik like a leper, but in Dudhraj and Mohamed Shaik seems to have friends prepared to go to war for him.

Zuma may have placated the ANC top brass by cutting off Shaik, he may even have earned a semblance of credibility when it comes to Shaik by refusing him a presidential pardon, but Zuma has certainly not forgotten his debt to the Shaik family. There is after all a Shaik running the country’s secret service. But, when even the Shaik brothers are said to be growing impatient with their sibling, an increasingly alienated Schabir may well abandon his act as a jilted lover and turn on his dear, dear friend. DM


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