The fresh revelations are likely to shake the Zuma administration as they involve one of the president’s key allies and the man tasked with running the country’s secret service. They give new insight into the bitter battle which took place between Zuma’s allies and those aligned to former President Thabo Mbeki prior to Mbeki’s ousting.
The confidential US Embassy diplomatic cable – titled Zuma advisor threatens to expose political skeletons- claims South African Secret Service boss Shaik, brother of convicted fraudster and Zuma funder Schabir, told the Americans that Zuma’s legal team would subpoena the country’s most influential figures if he lost a bid to have corruption charges against him “re-examined”.
The cable said he named Mbeki, the then suspended police commissioner Jackie Selebi, former director of Public Prosecutions Vusi Pikoli, then acting head of public prosecutions Mokotedi Mpshe as well as former Speaker Frene Ginwala as targets.
The cable – one of 250 000 leaked to Whistleblower website Wikileaks but obtained exclusively by Media24 Investigations – also reveals that the US Embassy in Pretoria actively cultivated Shaik as a key source of information on Zuma’s inner circle and the “motivations and strategies of the Zuma camp”.
Dated September 10 2008, two days before corruption charges against Zuma were initially dismissed by Judge Chris Nicholson, the cable was sent to the Secretary of State in Washington DC and copied to US consuls in Durban and Cape Town, the CIA, the US Defence Intelligence Agency and the White House National Security Council.
It is one of a number of classified cables recording meetings between Shaik – who was controversially appointed head of the South African Secret Service (SASS), South Africa’s foreign intelligence wing, in October 2009 – and an unidentified US embassy political officer.
“Shaik complained that all these people know Zuma is innocent and that he does not understand why they have not come to Zuma’s defence before now,” the cable noted.The cable noted that “as usual” Shaik treated the political officer or “PolOff” as “a friend, a child, a confidante, and an adversary all in the same conversation”.
“He always shares insights into the motivations and strategies of the Zuma camp, but also expects obvious respect and gratitude for it."
“PolOff does not know if Shaik meets with other diplomats, but presumes his contact within the diplomatic circle is limited."
“The Australian High Commissioner mentioned he had met Shaik once before…and Shaik admitted he spoke to the Norwegians but did not say if this was on a regular or one-time basis.”
The cable notes that Shaik “used to meet with the French, but cut them off after a French diplomat insulted him immediately before the ANC conference at Polokwane”.
The political officer reported that the Irish ambassador had approached her to arrange a meeting with Shaik after seeing her and Shaik in a restaurant together, “but Shaik refused, telling PolOff she should guard her contacts more closely”.
A source familiar with Shaik’s interaction with the US diplomats claimed this week that Shaik had been tasked with winning diplomats over to the idea of a Zuma presidency.
An earlier confidential cable, dated May 16 2008 speculated – after a meeting with Shaik – that the “Zuma camp may be looking to oust Mbeki”.
In a cable, dated June 4 2009, that focused on President Zuma’s new cabinet, Shaik is said to have described the appointments of various presidential advisers, among them Collins Chabane – now minister in the presidency for performance monitoring, Ayanda Dlodlo – now deputy minister of public service and administration, Mandisi Mpahlwa – now envoy to Moscow, Lindiwe Zulu, Zuma’s international affairs advisor and Bonisiwe Makhene as concessions to “keep them quiet”.
Contacted this week, Shaik said: “I will neither confirm nor deny that we had discussions with the Americans on these matters and I will definitely make no comment about the accuracy of those reports. The Americans must deal with accuracy.”
US embassy spokesperson Elizabeth Kennedy-Trudeau said the embassy would not confirm or comment on the contents or veracity of “stolen documents”.
“The nature of cables in themselves is that these are one person’s interpretation of a meeting, not official US public policy. The circumstances, because of the very nature of spot reporting are open to interpretation.”