South Africa

South Africa, Politics

State Capture: Vytjie Mentor and the affidavit that caused all the trouble

In June, a month after whistle-blower Vytjie Mentor had sat through the night with an SAPS Captain laboriously penning an 18-page affidavit which this week formed part of the Public Protector's State of Capture report, Hawks head, Lieutenant-General Mthandazo Ntlemeza, denied that the unit was investigating three Cabinet ministers or the Gupta family. It was a peculiar denial as it was Police Commissioner Lieutenant-General Kgomotso Phahlane who ordered Major-General Jeremy Vearey, deputy Western Cape provincial commissioner for detective services, to personally hand Mentor’s affidavit to Ntlemeza. A month later Veary and Major-General Peter Jacobs, the province’s crime intelligence boss, were both suddenly demoted. What gives? By MARIANNE THAMM.

In May the air in Cape Town turns crisp and cold, particularly at night, marking the approach of the long, cold and usually wet winter. It was Sunday May 8, around 22:00 when former MP Vyjtie Mentor – the woman President Jacob Zuma once claimed he did not know – determinedly walked into the SAPS Durbanville charge office.

Two months earlier, in March, Mentor had blown the whistle on the Gupta family and President Jacob Zuma on her Facebook page in a thread with former COPE spokesman and current DA member Johann Abrie.

Mentor, who was on holiday in Thailand at the time, was responding to Abrie’s post after reports first emerged on March 9 in the London Financial Times that Deputy Minister of Finance Mcebsi Jonas had alleged that the Gupta family invited him to Saxonwold and had offered him the top Treasury job two weeks before President Jacob Zuma had suddenly fired Nhlanla Nene on 9 December 2015.

Abrie had posted on his Facebook page:

The Minister of Finance did not confirm or deny the fact that the Gupta brothers approached his deputy, Mcebisi Jonas for the job as Finance Minister. For those of you able to read between the lines, this mean that deputy minister Jonas is the second person (after the Minister of Sport Fikile Mbalula) who were approached by the Guptas for a job as Minister instead of by President Zuma. It is now clear that Zuma abdicated his job of appointing Ministers to the Guptas.”

To which Mentor replied:

But they hap (sic) previously asked me to become Minister of Public Enterprises when Barbara Hogan got the chop, provided that I would drop the SAA flight-route to India and give to them (sic). I refused and so I was never made a Minister. The President was in another room when they offered me this in Saxonwold.”

By May 8 Mentor was ready to put it all down on paper. But she was cautious about who she wanted to talk to. So, when she walked into the charge office in Durbanville, she specifically asked to speak to Major-General Veary. Veary has an illustrious history in the ANC and as an MK operative. Arrested in 1987, Veary spent time on Robben Island. On his release in 1990 he was integrated into ANC intelligence structures. Veary is fearless about speaking his mind and is a respected law enforcement officer.

Mentor spent almost 24 hours writing the detailed statement, first by hand. In it she detailed her career from 1988 to 2002 when she was an official in the Department of Education and a councillor in the Northern Cape. In 2002 she was sworn in as an ANC MP and worked for Public Services and Administration as well as serving on the Portfolio Committee for Education. In 2004 she was elected ANC caucus chair, chair of the joint Standing Committee on Intelligence, chair of the Rules Committee and chair of Parliament’s Public Enterprises committee.

On July 22 this year Thuli Madonsela interviewed Mentor in Cape Town for her State of Capture Report where much of what was in the original affidavit she deposed that winter night in Cape Town was repeated. Mentor detailed what she knew about the VR Laser Deal with Denel as well as the “nuclear deal”.

Veary must have known the seriousness of the allegations that Mentor repeated later to Madonsela. That she was “offered the position of Minister of Public Enterprises by the members of the Gupta family at their Saxonwold home in Johannesburg, with President Zuma present in the house”.

The post had been occupied at the time by Barbara Hogan. Mentor detailed how a week before a Cabinet reshuffle in October 2010, she had travelled from Cape Town to Johannesburg on a South African Airways flight believing she was going to meet with President Zuma. That the meeting had been arranged by a staffer from the Presidency.

Mentor explained how on arrival at OR Tambo International Airport she had been welcomed by two unknown men at the arrivals lounge who held her name tag. The men had driven her to the offices of Sahara Computers first. They later drove her to the residence of the Gupta family in Saxonwold where the job offer was made and where she was told that she could become a Minister of Public Enterprises within a week if she assisted with influencing the South African Airways cancellation of the India route.

Mentor declined the offer and said that President Zuma had emerged minutes later from another entrance. She described how “the president was not angry that she declined the offer. He apparently said to her in Zulu, something like ‘it’s okay Ntombazane (girl)… take care of yourself”, Madonsela wrote in her final report.

Mentor also recounted how Zuma acted “as usual like a father and a leader and immediately accepted that she disagreed with the proposal, and escorted her to the window-tinted vehicle outside”. At the time Mentor said she had not been aware of any plans to reshuffle the Cabinet until she heard about the actual reshuffling a few days after the offer of a Cabinet post had been made to her by members of the Gupta family.

On Tuesday May 14 Veary registered an inquiry and briefed his old comrade and recently-appointed Deputy National Police Commissioner Gary Kruser. Kruser in turn briefed National Police Commissioner Kgomotso Phahlane at the SAPS Western Cape Provincial offices. Phahlane instructed Veary to immediately hand the Mentor affidavit personally to Ntlemeza. Officials at first had trouble locating the Hawks’ head but eventually summoned recently-appointed Western Cape Hawks head, Major-General Nombuso Khoza, to hop on a plane with the affidavit in a sealed envelope and to ensure it ended up in Ntlemeza’s hands.

On Wednesday May 18 Veary confirmed in a letter to Western Cape Provincial Commissioner Khombinkosi Jula that he had handed over the affidavit to Ntlemeza.

On June 21 Ntlemeza denied that he was investigating three ministers named in Mentor’s affidavit as well as the Gupta family. In a piece published in the Times Ntlemeza reportedly distanced the police unit from “these baseless reports which were aimed at casting denunciations on the three ministers.” The Hawks did, however, acknowledge receiving Mentor’s affidavit “The content thereof‚ which cannot be revealed since it is now subject to an enquiry‚ is being probed by the (Hawks) Anti-Corruption Unit. In the said statement though‚ there is no mention of the three ministers.”

A week before, on June 13, Veary as well as the province’s crime intelligence head, Major-General Peter Jacobs, suddenly had found themselves demoted without any prior warning. Veary was moved to the Cape Town and Jacobs to the Wynberg police cluster. Veary was also told he would no longer be heading up Operation Combat, the province’s anti-gang unit.

Both senior policemen have lodged a complaint with the labour court and the matter is still to be heard.

What is peculiar is that on June 12, a day before the sudden announcement by National Commissioner Phahlane at a conference in Paarl attended by the National Commissioner as well as all the cluster commanders of the province that Veary and Jacobs would be demoted, a Brigadier Zama Badi had contacted Mentor. It was late, around 22:00, and he had offered to take another statement from Mentor at her home explaining that Veary would soon be moved and that she should speak to him instead.

Mentor refused, saying she had already given a painstaking and detailed affidavit and would not be doing so again but that the Brigadier was welcome to call her the following day after the meeting in Paarl. Badi did not contact Mentor again and, when she called him, explained that he had already left the province.

The Hawks later confirmed to City Press that the unit was indeed investigating the Gupta family and had set December this year as a guideline for the matter to be completed.

Phahlane and Ntlemeza were both aware that Veary must have known the contents of Mentor’s affidavit.

When contacted by Daily Maverick Veary would only confirm that he had spoken with Mentor in May and that he had transferred the matter to the Hawks.

When asked whether he would be willing to testify at a Judicial Commission of Inquiry as ordered by the Public Protector, Veary simply replied “yes”.

In her report released on Wednesday Madonsela states “there seems to be no evidence of action taken by anyone to verify Ms Mentor’s allegation(s). If this observation is true, the provisions of Section 195 of the Constitution as interpreted in Khumalo v MEC for Education, KZN would not have been complied with”.

It is difficult to think that the Hawks would have found time to conduct an investigation into the serious allegations contained in Mentor’s affidavit while tossing major resources at and being consumed in a sort of frenzy, from about February, with finding charges – any charges – against Finance Minster Pravin Gordhan that might stick.

That little expedition didn’t turn out too well – dare we mention the Symington Memorandum – when NPA head Shaun Abrahams withdrew charges of fraud and theft against Minster Gordhan, Ivan Pillay and Oupa Magashula on Monday.

Madonsela has stated that a copy of her report “will further be provided to the following persons in terms of Section 6(4)(c)(i) of the Public Protector Act: The National Director of Public Prosecutions, Adv Shaun Abrahams; The Head of the Directorate for Priority Crimes Investigation, Brig. Berning Ntlemeza”.

Go for it, guys. DM

Photo: South African President Jacob Zuma listens at a press conference with President Robert Mugabe in Harare, Zimbabwe, November 3,2016. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

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