South Africa’s former president Jacob Zuma yesterday dismissed multiple graft allegations against him, telling a judicial inquiry he was the victim of conspiracies, years of “character assassination” and plots to kill him.

In an often rambling monologue, Zuma accused unnamed foreign intelligence agencies and spies of working against him and added: “I have survived attempts to kill me.” Zuma testified at the inquiry in Johannesburg into the so-called “state capture” scandal after previous witnesses gave damning evidence against him.

He is accused of overseeing mass looting of state assets during his nine-year tenure before being ousted by the ruling ANC party in 2018 and replaced by his deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa.

“I have been vilified, alleged to be the king of corrupt people,” he said. “I have been given every other name.”

Zuma, who will face questioning by lawyers during an appearance that could last all week, said he had been the victim of “character assassination over 20 years.” “This commission, according to those who are implementing things, must be the grave of Zuma, he must be buried here,” Zuma said.

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“There has been a drive to remove me from the scene, (they) wish that I would disappear… there is this conspiracy against me.” Zuma, 77, was not legally required to attend the inquiry, but it invited him to appear after other witnesses testified 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. “I never did any… breaking the law with this family, never,” he said. “This commission from my understanding was really created to have me coming here and perhaps to find things on me,” he alleged. Dismissing the term “state capture”, he said it was impossible for one family to corrupt the government, parliament and the judiciary.

“It’s an exaggeration, it is meant to enhance this narrative against Zuma,” he said.

“There have been people sent from outside the country to come and kill me, but I have been patient not saying a thing but I have been provoked to the last degree.” Sitting in central Johannesburg, the inquiry has heard from scores of witnesses over 130 days in session since last year.