Former President Jacob Zuma appears on his first day at the Zondo Commission. Picture: Karen Sandison/African News Agency(ANA)

Johannesburg - Former president Jacob Zuma said on Monday he continues to be vilified and that attempts were made by foreign and local intelligence agents to remove him from his organisation, the African National Congress (ANC).

Appearing for the first time before the Zondo-led commission of inquiry into State capture, Zuma made a long opening statement, saying that he was a victim of a character assassination campaign for over three decades, starting from when he was ANC head of intelligence.

"There has been a drive to remove me from the scene. It arises out of my work in the ANC and also because of who I am. This conspiracy against me has been stretched at all material times whenever things were done or said."

He said in 1990, while in the country, he received an intelligence report saying that three intelligence organisations, one local and linked to the apartheid government, and two foreign intelligence agencies plotted to have him removed as ANC intelligence head and ultimately from the organisation. A "character assassination of Zuma" plan was set into motion, he said.

"After receiving the report, I had a discussion with my colleague Joe Nhlanhla. We asked ourselves 'Why Zuma'? We searched for answers and found that the reason was because I had a lot of intelligence information as intelligence chief. There were spies who infiltrated the organisation. The plan was to nurture these people so they grow and lead the ANC."

He said the plan didn't succeed as he became ANC president at Polokwane conference in 2007. He said prosecutions by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and the now-defunct Scorpions were all part of a plan to get rid of him in the ANC. He told the commission that he learnt of a plan to arrest him at Polokwane so that he wouldn't be elected ANC president. Zuma contested for presidency against former president Thabo Mbeki.

Zuma also lambasted former public protector Thuli Madonsela and her Nkandla report titled "Secure in Comfort". Madonsela was allowed to be given executive powers and decide how the state capture commission should he constituted, he said.

"There are people who will be happy if I went to jail or removed. On the public protector investigation, no president had gone through such. Look at how Public Protector titled the report as 'Secure in comfort'. What comfort? The public protector, who was supposed to protect all of us, enhanced the narrative that Zuma is corrupt. She said there was no money to complete the Nkandla investigation but those who are in charge of Treasury found money to give her to investigate in a hurry before she leaves. She left and tried to complete work. It was difficult but the report is there."

In his first implication of persons while on the stand, Zuma said former National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP) Bulelani Ngquka and and former justice minister Penwell Maduna plotted to raise money to get rid of him. He said the duo met with Mzi Khumalo and an unknown Scorpion official to try get cash from Khumalo. When Khumalo asked them how much they needed, they told him they would get back to him but never did.

Zuma then turned to Ngoako Ramathlodi who had accused him of "auctioning the country to the Guptas" at the inquiry.

"I watched him while he was here [testifying]. He said Zuma sold the country...Zuma auctioned the country to the Guptas. What an exaggeration from a lawyer. Did I auction Table Mountain? It's a lie.

"Those tasked with removing me in the organisation failed. I do not want to discuss intelligence but the actions and behaviour looks like there were people busy all around...and who are they? For a number of reasons we reached decision not to reveal all that...but I have been provoked and provoked over and over again and called the most corrupt individual in the country," Zuma said.

African News Agency/ANA