Durban - President Jacob Zuma secretly paid two visits to Schabir Shaik when he was in prison serving time for fraud and corruption, the Sunday Tribune can reveal.
Impeccable sources say Zuma saw Shaik on May 22, 2007 – five months after he was sent to jail in November 2006 – and on May 13, 2008.
The second visit took place at Inkosi Albert Luthuli hospital, where Shaik was admitted for hypertension and depression, while the businessman was moving between Westville Prison’s Medium B prison and various hospitals during his incarceration.
The Sunday Tribune established that while Zuma’s first visit took place at about 11am and lasted until after 4pm, the second, at the hospital, was from 5pm until after 9pm – well outside normal visiting hours.
“Zuma wanted a private discussion with Schabir and the warders were asked to go out,” said a well-placed Westville prison insider.
Shortly after Zuma’s hospital visit Shaik received yet another high-profile visitor, this time Community Safety and Transport MEC Willies Mchunu, on July 3, 2008.
Mchunu confirmed he had visited Shaik, but said this was in his capacity as chairman of the Inkosi Albert Luthuli hospital’s board.
“Some people were unhappy about Shaik being in hospital, and he was unhappy about the prison’s inability to supply him with certain medication. I went there to do an inspection as chairman, in the presence of prison and hospital officials. That is all. I don’t know about the president’s visit. I’m not the president,” Mchunu said.
Presidency spokesman Mac Maharaj did not respond to numerous e-mails and SMSes sent over the past two weeks.
When first approached for comment last week, Maharaj said: “There’s nothing new about the visits. You’re asking me to comment on something that happened a long time ago. Why are you digging it up now? Is it because of the ANC conference coming up and you want to give it a new twist?”
Maharaj then asked for questions to be sent by e-mail.
They were sent on Friday last week. On Thursday this week Maharaj, through Bongani Majola, his aide in the Presidency, asked for the questions to be resent.
But when contacted again on Friday, Majola referred this newspaper back to Maharaj, who had not responded by the time of going to press.
Shaik was controversially released on medical parole in March 2009 after serving two years and four months – mostly in hospital – of his 15-year prison term.
Zuma, according to our sources, who include those present, arrived for the first visit heavily protected by VIP guards and was cheered by inmates.
On both visits senior warders at Westville prison were recalled from home to be present.
The Sunday Tribune can also reveal that Shaik, who had a small single cell with a television set, a bar fridge and two office chairs, was popular with pro-Zuma inmates.
“The prisoners liked him because he never spoke about Zuma,” said a prison insider.
However, sources say Shaik “blackmailed” Zuma into visiting him, threatening to “spill more beans” about the controversial arms procurement deal, should Zuma not come.
“Schabir… was going to talk. He was going to blow the whistle. He knew a lot,” said a source.
While visiting Shaik, the president also had a surprise visit from his cousin, Jabulani Zuma, a convicted murderer serving a 25-year sentence. Those present said Jabulani bore a striking resemblance to the president.
“It is unclear how Jabulani knew Zuma was there. He came down four floors and I don’t know how he made it past the gate. Maybe one of the warders opened it for him. But he was overjoyed to see Zuma. They look much alike, if you put them next to each other, they’re blood (relatives),” said a source.
Correctional Services spokesman Koos Gerber said prison visits could go on until late in the night under certain circumstances.
“I’m not saying Zuma was there outside normal hours, I’m only talking about policy. There are rules, but the head of the correctional centre can apply his mind,” said Gerber.
The DA’s shadow minister for Correctional Services, James Selfe, described Zuma’s visit to Shaik late into the night as an abuse of due process.
“If you’re a public representative or a judge or a magistrate you may visit at any time. But Zuma held no public office.
“You can imagine what an inconvenience his visit caused. These things are regulated, but Zuma doesn’t regard himself as being regulated by the law… It’s an abuse of process, an abuse of the law.”
Selfe said he believed it was “entirely possible” that the issue of medical parole was dealt with during the meeting between Zuma and Shaik.
“You’ll remember that Shaik, shortly after he was released on medical parole, angrily told the Sunday Tribune he wanted a presidential pardon. I’d like to think that pardon was not granted due to pressure brought to bear by the Democratic Alliance.”
Shaik could not be reached for comment this week and last week. He did not respond to numerous SMSes and did not respond to a message left for him at his Morningside home after the Sunday Tribune was denied entry by his security guard.