Botswana Politics

Bridgette Radebe hits back at claims of meddling and money laundering, but questions remain

By Carien Du Plessis 15 April 2019

Photo: Yandisa Monakali

Businesswoman Bridgette Radebe has been ‘exploring a potential business opportunity’ in Botswana with a company that is suspected of having been a conduit for her to fund an old friend’s presidential campaign in the country. She has maintained, however, that she had done nothing untoward.

Questions persist over whether one of South Africa’s most prominent businesswomen, Bridgette Radebe, has attempted to meddle in Botswana’s presidential succession politics. Recent reports in Botswana’s Sunday Standard have connected a number of dots with regards to Radebe’s Botswana relations and businesses, but she’s downplayed the seriousness of the connections.

According to a report last Sunday, Botswana’s Financial Intelligence Agency (FIA) has frozen the bank accounts of Gabarone-based Avante Security Services because of suspicions that Radebe used it to “launder” money for the presidential campaign of former foreign minister Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi.

Venson-Moitoi, who was up against incumbent President Mokgweetsi Masisi, withdrew from the race a day or two before the governing Botswana Democratic Party’s elective conference last weekend after a number of her backers were prevented from attending.

Venson-Moitoi was endorsed by former president Ian Khama, who was perceived to have been trying to regain some influence in government after stepping down when his 10-year term was up in April 2018.

Radebe hasn’t disputed her links with Khama and Venson-Moitoi. In response to questions, Radebe said, through PR company BCW, that she had “lived, studied and obtained her university degree in Botswana”.

One of the personal relations she established during that time was with Venson-Moitoi, “for whom she has immense respect as a woman political leader”.

In her response, she also noted that Venson-Moitoi was nominated by the Southern African Development Community to replace Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma as African Union Commission chair. Her bid was unsuccessful.

Radebe has, however, disputed whether there is a “factual basis for the suggestion” that she has funded Venson-Moitoi’s campaign or “that she has assisted her to ‘buy’ votes”.

She also “disputes the allegation” that her Mmakau Mining – which has interests in Botswana – used Avante to launder money for Venson-Moitoi’s campaign.

Sunday Standard reported that the FIA found a “number of suspicious transactions in excess of P10-million” (R13.2-million) paid by Mmakau to Avante, which in turn dispensed the money to accounts of a number of people linked to Venson-Moitoi’s campaign.

Radebe has not offered an explanation for this, other than saying she “has been exploring a potential business opportunity in Botswana. Avante Security Services is a potential partner in that business, if the opportunity is realised”.

Sunday Standard also obtained audio recordings of a meeting between Radebe, Sandton businessman Malcolm X, Venson-Moitoi’s son Kabelo Binns, and an unidentified man, strategising on how to move funds from Radebe to finance Venson-Moitoi’s campaign.

There were also other tapes of them discussing Venson-Moitoi’s media strategy, including targeting South Africa’s mainstream newspapers and television stations to write favourable stories.

Radebe mentioned lining up a number of journalists and also calling in ANC strategists to advise Venson-Moitoi. They also discussed calling in lawyers to deal with the suspension of Venson-Moitoi’s backers from the BDP conference.

Venson-Moitoi’s court bid on the eve of the conference was, however, unsuccessful in interdicting the gathering. Radebe also suggested that she’d already engaged some South African musicians about composing a campaign song.

Radebe has denied that this was a campaign meeting, but instead said “she was having a casual lunch with Ms Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi’s son, whom she has known for a very long time, and he casually mentioned some of the media challenges she was experiencing. During his casual discussion Ms Radebe commented on how she could get her message across”.

Radebe has also denied previous reports that a lunch she had with, among others, Khama and former United States ambassador to the United Nations, Andrew Young, at Victoria Falls was part of a plan to smuggle P60-million (R79.3-million) into Botswana.

Like Khama in a Facebook post, she denied that the meeting was scuppered by Zimbabwe intelligence officials. Her version of the events, through her PR company, is that “on Saturday 30 March a group of colleagues and friends flew to Zimbabwe to attend a reunion lunch” with Young and Khama.

Ambassador Young, who is a world-renowned civil rights leader and father figure to Ms Radebe, was staying at the Victoria Falls Hotel in Zimababwe along with a delegation of 56 American leaders. They were there as part of a tour to visit a number of southern African countries.

There is no truth to the suggestion that Ms Radebe was detained and subsequently deported from Zimbabwe. The flight plan for the visit demonstrates her intention was always to return to South Africa on 30 March 2019 after the luncheon.”

She denied “the allegation that there was any intention to travel to Zimbabwe with US$5.5-million (approximately P60-million) and that it was handed to President Khama and there were certainly no scuppered plans.”

At the end of her statement, she added: “Ms Radebe reserves her rights and intends to strongly defend her reputation.”

If it turns out that Radebe’s friendship with Venson-Moitoi has led her to get involved in the politics of a neighbouring country, it could amount to a presidential-sized headache, as Radebe is President Cyril Ramaphosa’s sister-in-law.

She is also married to one of the longest-serving ministers in Ramaphosa’s Cabinet, Jeff Radebe.

Even a perception of meddling could reflect badly on South Africa’s foreign policy efforts, and its principle of not getting involved in the politics of sovereign countries. So far, however, there has been no peep from the South African government. DM

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