South Africa


WhatsApps expose Floyd Shivambu and the ‘red boys’

Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) deputy president Floyd Shivambu during a media briefing on allegations that EFF and Shivambu benefited from the VBS bank looting on October 16, 2018 in Johannesburg, South Africa. The EFF has exonerated Shivambu from any wrongdoing in the VBS Mutual Bank scandal that allegedly involves his brother Brian Shivambu. (Photo by Gallo Images / Sowetan / Thulani Mbele)

A series of cryptic messages add further weight to claims that the EFF deputy president used his political profile for financial gain.

Floyd Shivambu told Parliament that the only income he earned in 2017 was his salary as a member of the National Assembly. No shares, no directorships, no consulting fees, no sponsorships, no land, no pension — no benefits at all.

But a series of cryptic SMSes and WhatsApp messages between Shivambu and high-profile businessman Lawrence Mulaudzi paint a different picture.

The messages, seen by amaBhungane, show that the deputy president of the EFF twice asked Mulaudzi for an “intervention” — clearly code for cash — including one to be paid into the account number of Grand Azania, a company controlled by Shivambu’s brother Brian.

The messages suggest that in exchange Shivambu may have used his position as the EFF’s second-in-command to secure meetings and potential business deals for Mulaudzi.

They support evidence previously reported by amaBhungane and Daily Maverick that powerful EFF figures use their political clout for financial benefit.

Shivambu and the EFF did not respond to repeated requests for comment while Mulaudzi denied that there was anything untoward in his relationship with the EFF deputy president.

Mulaudzi has been in the spotlight at the Mpati Commission, which is tasked with investigating allegations of wrongdoing at the Public Investment Corporation (PIC). His companies received loans of R3.6-billion from the PIC.

One well-placed source has suggested that the “interventions” to Shivambu were part of a pattern of Mulaudzi allegedly providing favours to decision-makers and influencers to keep that funding pipeline flowing.

In another example, Mulaudzi’s business partner, Kinesh Pather, was looking for help to quell community protests at a chrome mine in Limpopo and told Mulaudzi that they needed the “Red boys” to “reign in” (sic) one of the community leaders.

Shivambu and the EFF ignored requests for comment that amaBhungane sent over the past three weeks.

Mulaudzi responded to our initial questions and said:

I have a relationship with Mr Floyd Shivambu which dates back to our ANC Youth League days. There has never been anything untoward about this relationship.”

Mulaudzi also implied that the messages were part of a “fake dossier” which he claimed had been “manufactured” and “distributed” by a person trying to destroy his businesses and reputation.

After we sent detailed questions to Mulaudzi about the urgent “interventions” into Grand Azania’s bank account, he stopped responding.

Intervention for Floyd

It was 9.28am on 27 March 2017, and according to the WhatsApp sent to Mulaudzi’s phone, a contact saved as “DP FS” was in “great need”.

Heita… Please don’t forget to activate that intervention. Am in great need,” the message read.

Although we cannot directly see the identity of “DP FS”, other messages sent by the same person leave no doubt the acronym refers to “Deputy President Floyd Shivambu”. This includes messages containing Shivambu’s email address, his cellphone number, his home address in Bryanston, a wedding invitation for Shivambu’s wedding and photographs of the bride and groom.

And in case there was any doubt that “intervention” meant money, DP FS followed up with a message giving the FNB account details for Grand Azania, a small wine bar and distribution company ostensibly controlled by Shivambu’s younger brother Brian.

This is one of two instances that we are aware of where Shivambu asked Mulaudzi for money.

Two months later, on 15 May 2017, Shivambu sent a similar message: “Heita… Are you winning? There is a great need for urgent intervention”, and again three days later: “Heita… Are you winning on that intervention?”

But from the messages it appears that Mulaudzi was having cash-flow issues: “I’m still struggling with my private bank. It’s sitting in 32day index,” he replied.

Unfazed, Shivambu responded: “Okay cool. So it will only clear in 32 days?”

Though Mulaudzi refused to discuss the “interventions” with us, he told the Mail & Guardian in 2018 when it published a message containing the Grand Azania bank details:

I have a contractual obligation with number of companies including Grand Azania, which I pay from time to time for consulting and advisory services.” (The messages seen by amaBhungane show that Shivambu sent two messages with the Grand Azania bank details, the first over WhatsApp and the second, two minutes later, over SMS. The message published by the M&G was the latter.)

That a more complete set of the messages now shows that Floyd Shivambu, and not his brother Brian, apparently stood to benefit from these payments is significant. This is not only because Shivambu failed to disclose any consulting fees to Parliament, but also because it adds to the growing body of evidence suggesting that Grand Azania is a proxy for the EFF’s second-in-command.

Grand Azania is one of the companies linked to the looting of VBS Mutual Bank, which was placed in liquidation in 2018. Although not mentioned by name in advocate Terry Motau’s Great Bank Heist report, Grand Azania allegedly received R6.2-million from loans VBS made to Brian Shivambu and his businesses. (Read Daily Maverick Scorpio’s investigations here and here).

The question is, what did Mulaudzi expect in return?

Coded deals

Answering that question is not easy; in part, because the messages we have are incomplete and in part because even over encrypted messaging apps, Mulaudzi and Shivambu were careful about what they said.

Instead, when they wanted to talk, they would meet. Between December 2016 and May 2017, we can see several meeting spots being discussed: The Royal Gardens resort near Shivambu’s home town of Malamulele, Busy Corner Imbizo Shisanyama in Midrand, the Sandton Sun hotel and Shivambu’s rented house in Bryanston.

However, the clues that the messages provide suggest that Shivambu used his position in the EFF to open doors for Mulaudzi to deals that one or both would benefit from.

For instance, we can see that he was happy to make phone calls and attend meetings on Mulaudzi’s behalf.

I was able to talk to [name withheld] and he’s committed to talk when he returns from Davos…” Shivambu said, confirming that he had arranged to meet the chairman of two JSE-listed companies. “You must remind me of what we had to talk about.”

We can also see that Shivambu brought potential deals to his benefactor.

Do you know [name withheld],” Shivambu asked Mulaudzi in May 2017, including the website address of a boutique asset management firm in Johannesburg. “One of the founders and director has asked for a meeting. It looks like their asset management division manages more than R20 billion…”

Let’s meet them urgently,” Mulaudzi agreed.

Enter the ‘Red boys’

But was Shivambu willing to wield not just his political influence, but his party’s influence too? Mulaudzi’s business partner, Kinesh Pather, seemed to think so.

In early 2017, Marula platinum mine in Limpopo was being crippled by community protests, sparked by dissatisfaction with how the profits from the community’s stake in a related chrome mine were being distributed.

Pather is both an adviser to and shareholder in the community’s chrome mine.

On 21 February 2017, he sent Mulaudzi a photograph of EFF leader Julius Malema posing at a gala dinner with two men, followed by a message: “Bru this guy on left Edward Phasha we need Red boys to help reign in on chrome at Marula.”

Phasha — the man Pather wanted to get the “Red boys” to “reign in” (sic) — was one of the community activists involved in the protests at Marula. Phasha is also a member of the EFF.

The EFF has been outspoken about the rights of these communities that live on the doorstep of one of the richest platinum belts in the world. In 2015, Malema led a march to the front gates of Modikwa platinum mine, 20km south of Marula, to demand that 50% of the mine be given to neighbouring communities.

The masses are losing their patience. They are saying enough is enough; they want to benefit from the mine. This is just a warning shot,” he told thousands of red-clad community members.

Yet the message suggests that Pather now wanted “Red boys” to help quell protests in these same disaffected communities.

We have no way of knowing whether Shivambu agreed to intervene, or whether Mulaudzi even mentioned the request to him. Shivambu, Mulaudzi and Pather ignored our questions, but Phasha agreed to meet.

He initially sent us the address for Pather’s office in Bryanston, but then changed the meeting location to a Shell garage near a highway.

Standing in the parking lot, he told us that neither the EFF nor Pather asked him to scale back the protests against Marula. Instead he said that the protests died down after the department of mineral resources intervened, but that he and others remained unhappy with how the profits of the mining venture are being shared.

When asked, he confirmed that he was on his way to meet Pather, but claimed the meeting was to discuss his concerns about how the profits of the mine were being shared with the community.

Why it matters

The messages amaBhungane has seen raise questions about whether Shivambu received covert payments from Mulaudzi and failed to declare these to Parliament.

The messages also suggest that Shivambu used his political profile for Mulaudzi’s (and possibly his own) financial gain.

South Africans will go to the polls this week where the EFF is almost certain to increase its share of the votes.

The power of leading EFF figures is going to grow, but the example of Shivambu begs the question: Whose interests will they be serving? DM



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