Daily Maverick 168

The Days of Zondo – now starring a cast you couldn’t make up

The Days of Zondo – now starring a cast you couldn’t make up
Deputy Chief Justice Judge Raymond Zondo. Photo: Supplied

A R600-million plus cash-back voucher from McKinsey & Co and an unprecedented public mea culpa from tech firm EOH, along with runaway witness Jacob Zuma are but some of the elements that made the script of the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture as gripping – and unbelievable – as those stories of Bosasa bribes or the tales of the infamous Saxonwold shebeen.

First published by Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper

The not-so-great escape

“Mr Zuma has left, I’ve been told.”

In those words, a visibly disturbed Justice Raymond Zondo informed the public that former President Jacob Zuma had simply upped and departed the State Capture Commission without permission on 19 November.

Jacob Zuma, former South African president, pauses as he arrives to testify in the state capture inquiry in Johannesburg, South Africa on Monday, July 15, 2019. (Photo: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

While Zuma’s tea-break dash interfered with South Africa’s quest for answers, his violation of a subpoena that compelled him to appear for five days last month caused the commission to immediately open a criminal case against him.

It also announced its intention to approach the Constitutional Court for an order to compel the country’s former Number One to answer to allegations levelled against him by more than 30 witnesses so far.

Corporate confessions

Stephen van Coller landed at a crime scene when he became group chief executive of EOH Holdings in September 2018. That is how best to describe the situation he found: massive corporate governance failures, irregular tenders and round-figure payments, inappropriate gifts, sponsorships and bad timing along with donations to South Africa’s governing ANC.

Van Coller’s enthusiasm for his new job went south once he delved into the books at the JSE-listed company, where some executives and staff seemingly didn’t play much by the rules – or the law.

Chief Executive Officer of EOH Stephen van Coller. (Photo: Gallo Images/Papi Morake)

Testifying at the commission, Van Coller described a situation so dire at the time that he felt compelled to hand access to the company’s entire email server and accounting records to a forensic team from law firm ENSafrica.

The wrongdoing mentioned in testimony by both Van Coller and Stephen Powell of ENS was extensive across various large public-sector contracts. It included details of over-invoicing and under-delivery on software licensing deals at the Department of Defence and a SAP deal at the Department of Water Affairs.

Under Van Coller, EOH made multiple reports to the Hawks, the Special Investigating Unit or SARS submitted to authorities under the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act (Precca).

Van Coller’s testimony also covered, extensively, the company’s new leadership’s roadmap to clean governance as this is likely to help inform the commission’s own recommendations about how best to try to insulate public institutions and private companies against corruption.

The EOH evidence trail also featured a few ANC functionaries, including South Africa’s current deputy state security minister, Zizi Kodwa (for R300k in payments received during his time as the ANC’s national spokesperson).

And, Johannesburg Mayor Geoff Makhubo faced double trouble during his own appearance over EOH payments to his company and donations to the ANC (and also from Regiments Capital).

McKinsey and the Gupta side hustle

Having repaid Eskom more than R1-billion in fees following a tainted deal, McKinsey & Co is back with another promissory note.

Testifying via video link from France, Jean-Christophe Mieszala said the company wanted to do right in view of new evidence shared with it by the commission.

Base Photo: South African bank notes January 17, 2013. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

This time it has pledged to repay Transnet and SAA for fees earned as a result of its work with Regiments Capital, a financial advisory firm that crashed following its dodgy links and deals involving Gupta front companies.

McKinsey hopes to make amends with R650-million, but Transnet seeks no less than R1.2-billion.

What is remarkable about McKinsey’s testimony before Zondo is that all the blame for this costly mess is seemingly being placed at the door of one former partner, Vikas Sagar.

Sagar has been cast as a lone, misbehaving McKinsey rogue who caused the global firm huge reputational harm with his Gupta side hustle.

Mieszala, David Fine and Alexander Weiss each gave the official McKinsey line and, to varying degrees, implicated Sagar, whom the commission heard had clandestinely engaged with Gupta kingpin, Salim Essa.

Sagar also scraped his entire McKinsey computer to prevent his employer from digging up dirt.

After being found guilty of misconduct during a disciplinary, Sagar sailed off into the sunset, recently popping up in London, where he is billed as co-founder of a celebrated tech start-up, Kalido.

The whistle-blower

For a long time, Mosilo Mothepu was a faceless and nameless whistle-blower in South Africa’s State Capture saga.

This was understandable, as she had been hounded by her former employer, Trillian Capital Partners, for exposing the company’s hand in alleged dodgy dealings at SAA, Eskom and Transnet.

Former Regiments principal Mosilo Mothepu was forthright as she spoke about how Regiments CEO Eric Wood casually told her over morning coffee, more than a month before the event, that Zuma was to fire Nene. (Photo: Gallo Images / Papi Morake)

Mothepu first revealed in a statement to then-public protector Thuli Madonsela that Trillian’s owners allegedly had prior knowledge of Zuma’s intention to fire then-finance minister Nhanhla Nene in 2015, planning to profit off the information.

Testifying at the commission for the first time, Mothepu recounted her time as an executive in the Trillian stable and how she came to know of the plan ahead of time.

She concluded her testimony and asked to address the commission about the plight of whistle-blowers who risk and lose their livelihoods in helping South Africa piece together the State Capture puzzle.

“We need tighter legislation to protect whistle-blowers… I am hoping in your recommendations there can be reparations…”

Once Mothepu’s statement to the Public Protector was leaked to the media in October 2016, Trillian hit back by filing a string of criminal complaints against her. Those included charges of theft, fraud, corruption and cybercrimes relating to her having shared company information with outsiders.

After a 16-month investigation, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) confirmed in 2018 that it would not be prosecuting Mothepu.

The Dudu Myeni show

Former South African Airways chairperson Dudu Myeni landed in hot water when she disregarded warnings and named a whistle-blower in breach of the Commission’s Act. The secret witness, identified only as Mr X, had previously testified in camera how Myeni allegedly had cash deposited into his account to be withdrawn so it could then be paid into the Jacob Zuma Foundation bank account. This included a R1-million deposit on 11 December 2015.

Former SAA chairperson Dudu Myeni testified at the State Capture Commission over Zoom on 4 November 2020 while she was in self-isolation after being exposed to Covid-19. (Photo: Greg Nicolson)

Myeni revealed Mr X’s identify on four successive occasions during her testimony in what evidence leader Advocate Kate Hofmeyr described as “wilful obstruction” of the commission in the performance of its functions.

“It reveals disrespect for the commission and will send a chill over the proceedings because it is likely to deter future whistle-blower witnesses from coming forward,” Hofmeyr said.

As if reading Myeni’s next move, Hofmeyr said any explanation proffered or indications of regret that may follow were best left for a criminal trial should the prosecuting authority decide to act against Myeni.

As for the rest of her spell in the witness box, Myeni was not as forthcoming.

Questions about her time and conduct at SAA, claims of R300,000 in monthly payments from Bosasa, which allegedly needed her help to keep law enforcement at bay, were all met with the same refrain: “May I not answer that question in case I incriminate myself.”

‘Mama Aston’ Mokonyane

In some WhatsApp circles Nomvula Mokonyane has gone from being “Mama Action” to “Mama Aston”, a reference to the R3-million luxury car the former Cabinet minister landed courtesy of some family friends.

The car, along with her 40th – or 50th – birthday parties at a Krugersdorp guesthouse, took centre stage amid allegations she had scored generously from the once well-oiled Bosasa bribe operation.

Former minister Nomvula Mokonyane testifies at State Capture Inquiry on September 03, 2020 in Johannesburg, South Africa. It is reported that Mokonyane was expected to shed more light on her relationship with Bosasa and its former CEO Gavin Watson. (Photo by Gallo Images/Papi Morake)

Mokonyane appeared at the commission to respond to allegations by Angelo Agrizzi that Bosasa had paid her R50,000 a month in cash, had provided cars for her daughter, and tended to security or maintenance at her home. These claims, she told the commission, formed part of a racist misogynistic plot by Agrizzi to punish her.

The problem with Mokonyane’s version is that her story kept changing – like that there never was a Bosasa-funded birthday party at the guesthouse later flipped because it was her 40th and not her 50th as Agrizzi had claimed. This was after the guesthouse owner testified.

Then, while her affidavit to the commission claimed her late husband had paid for the party, Mokonyane testified that neither she nor her husband could have paid as “friends” had arranged the party.

Again, the guesthouse owner said Agrizzi had arranged the party and that Bosasa had paid for it.

Writing for Daily Maverick, Steve Kretzmann summed up Mokonyane’s appearance best: “The former minister of water and sanitation, Nomvula Mokonyane, sank under the weight of evidence and contradictory statements…”

But is it… a bribe?

Vincent Smith, the former ANC MP, momentarily cut a respectable figure when he graced the commission with his presence in September.

Unfortunately, he would be arrested weeks later on charges of fraud and corruption relating to his friends-with-benefits association with the now-defunct and corrupt facilities company, Bosasa.

Former ANC MP Vincent Smith appears in the Palm Ridge Magistrate’s Court on Thursday, 1 October, 2020.

The commission interrogated the circumstances around which Bosasa had paid the tuition fees of his daughter, among other benefits.

Smith thought the commission should consider that it was, perhaps, out of ignorance that he had failed to declare Bosasa’s generosity towards him in terms of the parliamentary code of ethics.

He was chairperson of the parliamentary portfolio committee on correctional services, a department under which Bosasa allegedly landed lucrative tenders in exchange for kickbacks to various politicians, civil servants or donations to the ANC.

Smith claimed, during testimony at the Zondo Commission, that Bosasa’s controversial former CFO-turned-whistle-blower Angelo Agrizzi, also an accused in the case, had loaned him more than R600,000 to pay for his daughter’s studies aboard – a loan seemingly sounding more palatable than, well, a bribe.

Law enforcement has taken over. Smith is out on R30,000 bail following his arrest relating to his failure to declare his Bosasa benefits to Parliament.

Who’s next?

As the commission races against time to complete its work by the end of February 2021, it would be a travesty if some of the major players did not make it to the commission – even if just to plead the fifth.

The Guptas are still a no-show. So is Salim Essa, an associate of the Gupta family – and extradition from the UAE still seems to be wishful thinking.

Brothers Ajay and Rajesh Gupta arrive as VIP guests at the ANC conference on 17 December 2012 in Bloemfontein. (Photo: Gallo Images / Sunday Times / Kevin Sutherland)

But, local business executives Litha Nyhonyha, Niven Pillay, Eric Wood of Regiments Capital and Trillian Capital Partners are right here in South Africa.

So, too, is Kuben Moodley, the man who allegedly introduced Regiments to McKinsey & Co and Salim Essa back in 2012 – as well as former parastatal bigwigs such as Brian Molefe, Anoj Singh, Siyabonga Gama, Stan Shane and Mark Pamensky.

None of these men qualify as “mere extras” in the State Capture script, so an audience with Justice Zondo seems fitting. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for free to Pick ‘n Pay Smartshoppers at these Pick ‘n Pay stores.


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