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Ex-South African President Jacob Zuma claims he has been vilified

Zuma had struck a characteristically relaxed tone ahead of his televised appearance, which could last for five days

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South Africa’s graft-accused ex-president Jacob Zuma said on Monday he had been “vilified”, as he testified at a judicial inquiry into the alleged looting of state funds while he was in power. “I have been vilified, alleged to be the king of corrupt people,” he told the inquiry. “I have been given every other name and I have never responded to those issues. I believe it is important that we respect one another.”

Zuma had struck a characteristically relaxed tone ahead of his televised appearance, which could last for five days, tweeting a video on Sunday of himself dancing and singing “Zuma must fall” before laughing heartily. The former president is accused of fostering a culture of corruption during a nine-year reign before he was ousted in 2018 by the ruling ANC party and replaced by Cyril Ramaphosa.

Zuma, 77, was not legally required to appear at the inquiry into the so-called “State Capture” scandal. State capture describes a form of corruption in which businesses and politicians conspired to influence policies to advance their own interests. He denies all wrongdoing and dismissed the concept of “state capture”, while his lawyers have described the inquiry as an attempt to “ambush and humiliate” him.

Zuma, who addressed the commission at the start of the day, said that he had been the victim of “character assassination over 20 years.” His request to see questions in advance was denied by the inquiry commission, which had invited him to appear “to give his side of the story” after other witnesses gave damning evidence against him.

Led by judge Raymond Zondo, the probe is investigating a web of deals involving government officials, the wealthy Gupta family and state-owned companies. “The commission is not mandated to prove any case against anybody but is mandated to investigate and inquire into certain allegations,” Zondo said, thanking Zuma for appearing.

Before Zuma spoke, his lawyer Muzi Sikhakhane told the commission: “The propaganda machine out there has been quite alive. “The former president established this commission and is willing to cooperate.”

Multiple allegations against Zuma

According to Angelo Agrizzi, one of the inquiry witnesses, Zuma allegedly accepted a monthly $2,200 bribe delivered in luxury bags from a contracting firm that was trying to evade police investigation. The money was in theory for his charity foundation.

Agrizzi said his company also organised free parties, bulk alcohol supplies and birthday cakes to keep favour with Zuma’s associates. Former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene, who was sacked by Zuma in 2015, testified that Zuma pushed policies on nuclear power and aviation that were designed to benefit the Gupta family.

The Gupta brothers are accused of fraudulently profiting from government contracts including energy and transport deals under Zuma. The family-owned uranium mine, which would have seen profits soar from the nuclear deal, as well as a portfolio of mining, technology and media companies.

They allegedly held such sway over Zuma that they were able to select some of his cabinet ministers. Former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas told the inquiry that the Guptas offered him the finance minister’s job and even threatened to kill him after he refused to accept a $40 million bribe.

Zuma was forced to set up the inquiry in January 2018, shortly before he left office, after failing in a legal battle to overturn the instructions of the country’s ethics ombudsman. Sitting in central Johannesburg, it has heard from scores of witnesses over 130 days in session since last year.

Zuma has separately been charged with 16 counts of graft linked to an arms deal from before he became president. The Indian-born Gupta brothers – Ajay, Atul and Rajesh – have left South Africa and are now based in Dubai. They also deny any wrong-doing.

Eager to distance himself from the Zuma era, Ramaphosa has declared his presidency as a “new dawn” for the country and described the inquiry as a “very painful process”.

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Liberian opposition MP accuses President Weah’s supporters of assassination plot

President Weah said the violence was perpetrated by members of both the ruling CDC and the opposition CPP parties

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Liberian opposition MP accuses of President Weah's supporters of attack on her
Liberian president George Weah. (Photo by Ludovic MARIN / POOL / AFP)

An opposition lawmaker in Liberia on Monday accused supporters of President George Weah’s party of trying to assassinate her while she was campaigning for an election re-run.

Tellia Urey, the candidate for an opposition bloc for an upcoming election re-run in the capital Monrovia, told journalists her vehicle was also badly damaged by members of the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) party.

“I was in a meeting with my partisans on Saturday when supporters of the CDC started to throw stones at the building, breaking glasses. I was sent to a room without window for my security. 

“We called the police, they came 20 minutes later but to stand and look… We were indoors for one and a half hours. People were getting injured. There was no other option but to try and get me out,” she said.

When they emerged, they found Urey’s car badly damaged and her driver injured. One man “came in with a knife trying to get me,” she added.

“Our campaign for the re-run in District 15 will not be possible this time because we cannot put our partisans at risk. I want to beg the international community to help us save the lives of our people,” Urey said.

By-elections were held on July 29 to fill two seats in the Senate and the House of Representatives.

The National Election Commission announced a re-run of voting at six polling stations in the district after a dispute hearing in which Urey claimed electoral fraud.

The Collaborating Political Parties coalition to which Urey belongs slammed the attack as “another bloody day in our country’s history.”

“Unfortunately, our government under the leadership of George Weah is the promoter of violence against our citizens whose only crime is to exercise their political franchise, the same process from which George Weah and his political followers have benefited.”

Weah said the violence was perpetrated by both the CDC and the CPP and launched an investigation.

“Electoral violence in all its forms will not be tolerated, and individuals who disrupt the peace will face the full weight of the law,” a statement from the presidential office said.

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Burkina Faso soldiers killed in “major terrorist attack”

Security sources say death toll could rise to 20 as more soldiers are still missing

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Burkina Faso soldiers killed in "major terrorist attack"
(File photo)

More than a dozen soldiers died on Monday during a “major attack” by “terrorist armed groups” in northern Burkina Faso, the army said, adding that it could be the deadliest ever against the armed forces.

With other soldiers still missing, the death toll could pass 20, several security sources said.

“In the early morning, the military detachment of the Koutougou department in Soum province was the target of a major attack by armed terrorist groups,” said a statement from the general staff.

“A provisional report states that more than a dozen soldiers were killed, and several were wounded.”

The assailants used heavy weapons and burnt a large portion of the camp and material, a security source told reporters. 

“In response to this barbaric attack, a large air and ground operation led to the neutralisation of several assailants,” the general staff said without elaborating. 

Burkina Faso has been battling a rising wave of jihadist violence over the last four years which began in the north but has since spread to the east, near the border with Togo and Benin.

The heaviest Islamist attack against Burkina’s army to date left 12 soldiers dead at Nassoumbou, also in Soum province, in December 2016.

More than 40 jihadists aboard pickup trucks and on motorcycles laid assault to a military post close to the Mali border.

Overnight Thursday to Friday armed men described as jihadists raided a village in the north, killing 15 people, plundering and burning shops, a regional governor said.

Most attacks are attributed to the Ansarul Islam group, which emerged near the Mali border in December 2016, and to the JNIM (Group to Support Islam and Muslims), which has sworn allegiance to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

Those groups are believed to be responsible for around 500 deaths since 2015. Burkina’s capital Ouagadougou has been attacked three times.

France has deployed 4,500 troops in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad in a mission codenamed Barkhane to help local forces flush out jihadists.

Burkina Faso has also joined four other Sahel nations (Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger) in an initiative aimed at creating a joint 5,000-troop anti-terror force, also backed by France.

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Kenyan authorities arrest foreigners with ivory bracelets at airport

Spaniard Maria Pich-Aguilera, 50, was arrested on Sunday evening and pleaded guilty, paying a fine of Ksh 1 million for illegal possession of ivory

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Kenyan authorities arrest foreigners with ivory bracelets at airport
Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Nairobi, Kenya. (File photo)

A Spanish woman has become the second foreigner in a week to be arrested at Kenya’s international airport for wearing an ivory bangle, the wildlife service said Monday.

Spaniard Maria Pich-Aguilera, 50, was arrested on Sunday evening and pleaded guilty, paying a fine of Ksh 1 million for illegal possession of ivory.

The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) said in a statement she was “arrested at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport with an ivory bangle,” while travelling from Nairobi to Tanzania’s financial capital Dar es Salaam. She was allowed to leave for Tanzania after paying her fine.

Last week, a Frenchwoman was arrested at the airport on her way from France to Mayotte for possession of an ivory bracelet. She pleaded guilty and also paid the Ksh 1 million fine — the alternative is 12 months in prison.

“We noticed this new trend where ivory is smuggled through worked or processed bangles and we have increased surveillance,” said an investigator speaking on condition of anonymity. 

A KWS official, also asking not to be named, said that trafficking included “ornamentals made out of ivory”.

“It may be legal in other countries but here it is not. That is why you always hear a call to stop ivory trade all over the world because any small or big demand anywhere pushes poachers to meet the demands.”

Global trade in elephant ivory has largely been outlawed since 1989 after the animal’s numbers plunged from millions in the mid-20th century.

The African Elephant Database estimates that by 2015, fewer than 415,000 of the giant mammals remained on the continent.

Thousands of conservationists and policymakers from more than 180 countries are currently meeting in Geneva to tighten rules on trade in elephant ivory and products from other endangered animal and plants.

The plight of African elephants is expected to dominate the debate.

Some states are calling for the strongest possible level of protection for all African elephants, while countries in southern Africa, where populations have traditionally been better protected and healthier, are requesting the resumption of ivory stockpile sales.

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