South Africa’s former President Jacob Zuma has told a judge-led inquiry that allegations of corruption against him were a “conspiracy” aimed at removing him from the political scene.
He was appearing for the first time at the inquiry, which is investigating allegations that he oversaw a web of corruption during his term in office.
His supporters cheered when he entered the building.
Mr Zuma, 77, was forced to resign as president in February 2018.
He was replaced by his then deputy Cyril Ramaphosa, who promised to tackle corruption in South Africa. Mr Ramaphosa described Mr Zuma’s nine years in office as “wasted”.
The allegations against Mr Zuma focus on his relationship with the controversial Gupta family, which was accused of influencing cabinet appointments and winning lucrative state tenders through corruption.
He has also been accused of taking bribes from logistics firm Bosasa, run by the Watson family.
They all deny allegations of wrongdoing.
“I have been vilified, alleged to be the king of corrupt people,” Mr Zuma told the inquiry led by Judge Ray Zondo.
“I have been given every other name and I have never responded to those issues,” he added.
Zuma on the ‘conspiracy’ against him
He lashed out, in detail – and with fury – at what he said was a decades-long conspiracy against him.
He implied that the UK and US had been – and still were – part of an elaborate plot to discredit him, even as he tried to bring about political and economic change in South Africa.
Mr Zuma alleged that former government minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi, who gave damning evidence against him, was part of the plot.
Other foreign trained agents had tried to poison him, Mr Zuma said, without naming them.
On the eve of the hearing, Mr Zuma was in a good mood. He tweeted a video of himself laughing at the chant “Zuma must fall!”
Zuma on the Gupta family
He said he found the Indian-born family “very friendly”.
“I never did anything with them unlawfully. They just remained friends, as they were friends to everybody else,” Mr Zuma said, adding that they had also been friends of former presidents Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki.
He objected to allegations that he had allowed the state to be “captured” by the family, and had auctioned the country.
“Did I auction Table Mountain? Did I auction Johannesburg?” he said.
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