Band of brothers in the thick of things
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By Ashley Smith
They seemed to have came from nowhere, but nearly 10 years after the birth of a democratic South Africa, the names of the Shaik brothers are on everybody's lips.
From procuring arms, to making card driving licences, to handing out extravagant gifts to political pals, to giving financial advice to Deputy President Jacob Zuma, they seem to be everywhere and involved in everything.
Their names are Schabir, Yunis, Mo and Chippy.
Faizel is the fifth brother, but he, like their sister Rehana, was not involved in politics during the anti-apartheid struggle and is today not making headlines like the rest.
Those wishing to follow the saga of the newsmaking Shaiks and their business and political dynasty can tune into the Hefer Commission which is investigating claims that National Director of Public Prosecutions Bulelani Ngcuka was an apartheid spy and that he has abused his current position.
Four of the brothers - directly or indirectly - are part of the proceedings.
Chippy is the former head of the government's arms procurement committee; Schabir is the one whose company got a slice of the R66-billion arms deal; Mo is the former ANC intelligence operative who just happened to reconstruct an intelligence report claiming Ngcuka was a spy, months after Ngcuka started investigating his brother Schabir.
And Yunis is part of the legal team representing Mo at the commission.
Schabir's business successes include that his company, Nkobi Holdings, acquired the lucrative contract to print the country's card-format driving licences.
Yunis is a director of the Commission for Conciliation Mediation and Arbitration.
It appears that Faizel and Rehana are not politically active, but Schabir, Yunis, Chippy and Mo are key figures in ANC circles.
During apartheid, the Shaik family lived in Greenwood Park, Durban, for 30 years.
Their father, Lambie, was born in Pietermaritzburg and sharpened his political activism by serving as a shop steward for the Leather Workers' Union.
It was perhaps here that the Shaik brothers had their first taste of struggle politics.
According to investigations, Yunis was the first member of the Shaik family to make contact with the ANC in exile, after he and Mo were detained by the apartheid state in 1980.
He recruited Mo, Schabir and also Chippy.
The brothers returned home and formed the Mandla Judson Khuzwayo unit - named after an ANC commander who had died in Zimbabwe.
The unit was tasked with building support for the ANC in civic organisations and trade unions.
Mo, who then had an optometry practice in Durban, joined the ANC's intelligence network and by 1987 he was involved full-time in the spy game.
Many former exiles, now important members of the present government, tell stories of how the Shaik brothers helped them to return to the country in the 1980s so they could intensify the struggle against the apartheid government.
Zuma, former transport minister Mac Maharaj and Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry Ronnie Kasrils were among those smuggled into South Africa.
Mo was also part of the ANC's Operation Vula, a move to stockpile huge amounts of weapons in the years before the transition to democracy in 1994.
In Vula he worked closely with Maharaj, giving him regular intelligence briefings. All indications are that Mo's level of intelligence gathering included handling sources in the apartheid state's security branch.
The accusations levelled against Ngcuka stem from a report allegedly drawn up by Mo in the late 1980s or early 1990s (during Operation Vula), when Maharaj asked him whether it was safe to contact the then National Association of Democratic Lawyers.
Mo apparently told him there was a spy in the organisation's ranks and during follow-up meetings he told Maharaj the spy was Ngcuka.
Before the start of the Hefer Commission, there were rumblings that the Shaiks were being used as pawns in a political chess game between very senior members of the ANC.
There have been rumours that the battle is, in fact, about the leadership of the party, and, by implication, the presidency, after the 2009 elections, and that it is in fact a "house-cleaning exercise".
Mo also claimed that "right-wing elements" were behind attempts to discredit and embarrass the government and his family.
In their present guise, the Shaik brothers seem to be in perfect position to play out their part in such a political drama.
Earlier this year, Schabir was ordered by the Durban High Court to answer questions by the Scorpions on the arms deal and Maharaj was investigated for receiving money from Schabir.
Zuma was also asked by the Scorpions to answer questions relating to his relationship with Schabir.
In August, Schabir was charged with corruption, fraud and tax evasion relating to alleged bribes and payments from himself and his companies to Zuma.
Attached to the charge sheet was a 60-page document claiming that R1.2 million had been paid to or on behalf of Zuma.
But then the whole saga was shaken by new allegations that Ngcuka was a spy.
The Hefer Commission was set up and the attention of the country was on the Shaik brothers again.
Now everybody wanted to know what proof Mo had that Ngcuka was a spy.
The questions now are: how long, if at all, can the Shaiks stay out of the public eye and more important, are heads are going to shake, rattle and roll?