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Insiders warn: appoint Lindiwe Sisulu and you get her controlling adviser thrown in

Insiders warn: appoint Lindiwe Sisulu and you get her controlling adviser thrown in
Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu. (Photo: Gallo Images / Sharon Seretlo) | Sisulu’s adviser, Mphumzi Mdekazi (left). (Photo: Press office / content.voteda.org)

Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu has positioned herself as the battering ram for the RET campaign to unseat President Cyril Ramaphosa and advertised her own presidential ambitions. But multiple sources in Sisulu’s own orbit warn that she is to a worrying extent the victim of her abrasive adviser, Mphumzi Mdekazi.

As the African National Congress (ANC) elective conference draws closer and the race for the top job intensifies, Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu has made no secret of her ambitions.  

Sisulu, a member of the ANC National Executive Committee (NEC), has long positioned herself as a presidential hopeful for the Radical Economic Transformation (RET) faction. More recently, she has reportedly teamed up with the candidate endorsed by Jacob Zuma: his ex-wife Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma. 

Sisulu’s candidacy was effectively publicly announced by her longtime special adviser, discredited lawyer Paul Ngobeni, in an article in Africa News Global, which appears to serve as an RET mouthpiece. 

The news site is owned by Patriotic Alliance co-founder Kenny Kunene and was the brainchild of Steven Motale, who was the editor of the Sunday Independent before becoming Sisulu’s spokesman in November 2020. 

But her most audacious gambit as RET stalking horse emerged on 7 January this year when she penned the now infamous open letter Hi Mzansi, have we seen justice?, published a day ahead of President Cyril Ramaphosa delivering the ANC’s annual January 8th Statement.  

In an extraordinary assault on the Constitution and the judiciary, Sisulu wrote: “The most dangerous African today is the mentally colonised African. And when you put them in leadership positions or as interpreters of the law, they are worse than your oppressor… In America, these interpreters are called House Negroes.”

There followed an embarrassing sequence of events in which Sisulu was summoned by the President to account for the article, the Presidency issued a statement claiming she had retracted and apologised, the Sisulu camp responded with a fierce denial (effectively accusing Ramaphosa of lying) and the Presidency simply reiterated its statement and called the matter closed.

Many observers believed Sisulu was deliberately provoking Ramaphosa to fire her and in so doing, kick-starting her campaign. But a tipoff from a former senior official in Sisulu’s department raised a different scenario.

Sisulu, the source claimed, was not in full control of her own destiny. On the contrary, they alleged, she was in the thrall of a cabal around her, but most importantly, she was being manipulated by her long-time aide and political adviser, Mphumzi Mdekazi.

“This is the behaviour of an abused woman,” the source alleged, saying he had witnessed the minister crying after interacting with Mdekazi.

“The minister has become unrecognisable as a result of her relationship with him. She used to be decisive; now she has wilted, she has shrunk.”

We were sceptical about such claims in the context of a looming ANC elective battle characterised by acrimonious factional disputes — and all the more so where the allegation was potentially seen as a sexist attack on the agency of a senior woman politician.

But we had flagged Mdekazi’s role before — as had other media — and after weeks of investigation, after talking to a slew of Sisulu’s current and former staff and associates (many of whom are still protective of her), and after investigating Mdekazi’s background and conduct, it became clear to amaBhungane that the claims had a distinct bearing on matters of governance and effective political leadership.

amaBhungane cannot say if the association is a sexual one — and it hardly matters: the allegations that have come to light paint Sisulu as something of a pawn in a bigger political game played by Mdekazi and his allies — but also as a victim whose relationship with him has alienated members of her staff and her family.

Both Sisulu and Mdekazi have vehemently denied the allegations, as we detail further below.

Mdekazi opted to respond through his wife, Andiswa, but both he and the minister are represented by the same lawyer. Metadata on the responses in the names of Andiswa Mdekazi and Sisulu suggest both documents were created by Motale, Sisulu’s spokesperson.

The talented Mr Mdekazi

One source, who has close proximity to Sisulu and has worked with her for years, spoke to amaBhungane on condition of anonymity. The source accused Mdekazi of using Sisulu to advance his own political aspirations. “Mdekazi intimidates her and he uses her name. She backs him through her actions,” said the source.

“[Mdekazi] would tell officials, ‘The minister wants you to do X or Y’. He would [sometimes] run his diary to override hers. She would say to her team, ‘I don’t know anything about this event’, but then she would cancel her formal programme for him.”

A former senior water official, who has previously clashed with Sisulu, told amaBhungane: “Mphumzi even has this woman’s electronic signature, so some of the appointments that we say were done by Lindiwe were in fact done by Mphumzi.”

The source conceded they had no direct knowledge of this but had been informed of the allegation by other officials.

Sisulu has denied this claim, stating that only one person, Zoey Adams, was the custodian of her electronic signature. She said: “Any letter that indicates my name is signed by myself and by no other person. So, I challenge you on the basis of accurate and truthful reporting to produce just one letter that was not done by me or signed by a third party with my signature.”

amaBhungane has spoken to another official from the ministry, who said that while they personally did not know whether Mdekazi had access to the minister’s electronic signature, this was possible as to their own knowledge more than one official had such access: “In any case, he would never struggle to get her signature; he would come in and put things in front of her and she would sign it.”

Another source, a senior member of the minister’s entourage, confirmed Mdekazi’s influence and said: “Letters would arrive typed and signed somewhere else, not through the department or ministerial register. It’s very counterproductive; he is cushioned and protected by the minister at the expense of her personal staff.”

A former member of the ministerial Rapid Response Task Team said that on multiple occasions they had witnessed Mdekazi use Sisulu’s cellphone to send text instructions on projects without consulting Sisulu. Allegedly, she would later ask her staff who had sent the messages.

Yet another source claimed that many of the decisions made in the water ministry at the time Sisulu was there were actually made by Mdekazi. “Yes, it’s 100% true,” said the source.

“I think he’s got a lot of influence. I don’t really know what the nature is of their relationship, but … the minister believes him blindly, she doesn’t question anything that he has to say. He directs what the minister thinks and does, that has been my experience.”  

Sisulu said amaBhungane’s questions were “slanderous” and “[expose a] sinister agenda to discredit me ahead of the ANC’s forthcoming elective conference.

“What I find highly troubling is your line of questioning, which is defamatory, speculative and insulting in nature…

“The aim of those who use you for these personal attacks is to portray me as someone who is unethical, incompetent, and an individual of very low moral standing who is barely in charge of her own life, yet aspires to lead a nation of more than 50 million people.” 

Sisulu accused amaBhungane of attempting to vilify her and to “show South Africa and the world that I’m not leadership material.

“In my opinion of Mr Mdekazi, he is hated because he fights and confronts corruption, so many of his casualties will always cry foul; that is one of the reasons I have full confidence in him.”

Andiswa Mdekazi told amaBhungane: “I wish to take this opportunity to address you and the questions you have asked my husband, Mphumzi Mdekazi. You asked my husband to confirm if he is in a romantic relationship with Minister Sisulu.

“Legally and socially I am the only custodian of that question, not you or your so-called sources, including your handlers that are pushing you to do what you are doing. I can confirm and assure you that Mphumzi is not a homosexual man, he likes women and maybe that bothers you.

“I am upset that you seek to tarnish the reputation of my husband whilst being fully aware he is [a] father. Do you care the least that such gossip and sensationalism by you can have a direct effect on my minor children? If your interest is the minister, Mr Mdekazi or anything work-related, I agree you may pose the question. However, gossip-mongering about my husband is unethical and baseless.

“So, for the record, Minister Sisulu is a family friend of mine. She is a friend to me more than she is to Mphumzi. It was me who introduced her to Mphumzi a long time ago.

“If you want to destroy Minister Sisulu politically, go and do that without using Mphumzi and my family life.

Mphumzi Mdekazi

A ‘reign of terror’

Since Mdekazi’s arrival in Sisulu’s life, she appears to have lost a number of staff members who were loyal to her for decades, both in the ministry and in her home.  

One staff member who worked in Sisulu’s office said: “[Mdekazi] is a monster, he is a bully and he is a dictator. He thinks everyone who is close to the minister is a threat.”  

The staffer said that before Mdekazi’s arrival, they and Sisulu had a good relationship but things soured after the staffer stood up to Mdekazi.  

“He would call me to make bookings and when I would tell him that is not how things are done, he would hurl profanities at me.”  

Another staff member claimed they witnessed Sisulu giving Mdekazi money on more than one occasion. 

“He was always after money. The minister was always withdrawing for him. If anybody gets in his way, he will destroy that person — he has no remorse. He only thinks about money for himself.” 

The person alleged they became a target after seeing Mdekazi taking money out of the minister’s handbag. 

Andiswa said amaBhungane was guilty of conducting an “adventurous fishing expedition”.

“You do that by even claiming that the minister once took money and gave it to Mphumzi. Whether this occurred or not, one needs to actually state a time period this occurred at such that Mphumzi can respond.” 

Sisulu said: “It is fair to state that staff have left a portfolio I have been involved in or headed; however, there is nothing untoward in this and this happens with every minister. If you require any substantial response regarding staff who left due to Mr Mdekazi, kindly provide us with further details such that I can respond adequately to the question.”  

Several sources who have had working relationships with both Mdekazi and Sisulu alleged that Mdekazi physically bullied Sisulu.

One, who is admittedly hostile to Mdekazi, said: “You know they are in a relationship right? It’s an open secret… He controls her.”

Another source, who has worked closely with both Sisulu and Mdekazi, also told amaBhungane that their relationship was an open secret. He  claimed he had spoken to Mdekazi after seeing bruises on Sisulu. 

Sisulu told amaBhungane: “You insinuate that I am threatened and beaten up by Mr Mdekazi. I always stand my ground and fight for what I believe in. I am a trained soldier and would act in accordance with the law should I be attacked or my life threatened. You laughably indicate that I am being beaten up by my staff and a civilian? I invite you to share any cogent evidence which you base this laughable contention upon. 

“So, to answer your questions, I have never been abused or threatened, including intimidated, by any man in my life. I will never be abused or intimidated by any man including you, be it physically, psychologically or emotionally.”

History

Mdekazi has elicited such allegations before.

His estranged daughter, Okuhle Khatshwa, told us: “In 2014 he beat me to a pulp. He beat me with a stick in the car and I couldn’t even run. All I could do was cover my face.”

She said all she had done was take a trip to Paarl without asking for Mdekazi’s permission. Khatshwa alleged he continued the beating when they got home and, after her father had left, Mdekazi’s wife took her to a hospital and told her to say the bruises had come from a netball injury.

“That is the day I told myself that my father had died and I haven’t associated myself with him since then.”

Khatshwa’s version was broadly corroborated by another member of her family, who asked not to be identified.

Confronted with these allegations, Mdekazi’s wife said: “I would like to challenge you to produce the medical records being either a J88 or medical notes in a redacted form to substantiate your allegations, because Mphumzi is not a violent person, as far as I am concerned.

“The truth is, there is no basis for these allegations except to ruin a man’s reputation for reasons unbeknown to us. I am putting it to you that no such incident ever took place.”

Isolated

Our original tipster said: “Mphumzi’s currency is to keep her [Sisulu] paranoid… He frequently accuses her of cheating on him. He has come between her and her family. He has isolated her from the people who love her, including her son.”  

amaBhungane has listened to a WhatsApp voice note between the former chief executive of the Amatola Water Board, Vuyo Zitumane, and a person alleged to be Olindi Sisulu, Minister Sisulu’s youngest son. 

The message appears to have been about an altercation between Mdekazi and Olindi. It has been suggested to amaBhungane that Olindi Sisulu was defending his mother or retaliating on her behalf. 

In the recording, Olindi Sisulu can be heard saying to Zitumane: “I need your help to help me take him down. I even got into a fight with him. I sent him… I have broken his ribs because I was so angry… They want to open a case against me, so I really want to help you, Ma’am.”

Olindi Sisulu declined to speak to amaBhungane about the recording or the alleged incident. Zitumane also declined to comment or confirm the authenticity of the recording, but her erstwhile lawyer appears to have alluded to the incident on a previous occasion.

In an interview with the Daily Dispatch published in July 2021, Zitumane’s then attorney, Java Mama, told the newspaper that what he called Sisulu’s “obsession” with Zitumane had “moved a young man, who claimed to have fought one of her advisers and broken his ribs, to call Miss Zitumane and plead for a truce”.

Another source amaBhungane spoke to said Olindi had confided in them personally, confirming the incident. Andiswa Mdekazi did not respond at all to this claim.

Sisulu said: “It is the will of ANC branches that will prevail in December and they will never be swayed by propaganda tools like amaBhungane, no matter how hard you try to discredit myself, my children and my family, which I state is disgusting, to say the least. My children are not people of public interest and I suggest that you keep them out of your warfare against me.”

Mphumzi’s story

So who exactly is Mphumzi Mdekazi? 

Before being appointed as Sisulu’s political adviser in 2017 when she was minister of international relations and cooperation, Mdekazi was a researcher in Parliament. He has since moved with Sisulu through each ministerial change (to Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation and then to Tourism).

According to our original informant, Mdekazi approached Sisulu shortly after her husband Rok Ajulu died in December 2016, and offered to write a book about the Sisulu family. The book never transpired, but Mdekazi embedded himself into her life.

The senior member of the minister’s entourage told us: “Mphumzi came into the Sisulu office about six months before Nasrec [the ANC’s December 2017 conference].

“He sold himself as a mature student at Stellenbosch. He proposed doing a movie or publicity documentary on her because she doesn’t get proper credit for what she does and everyone around her is useless.”

Mdekazi describes himself as “political adviser” to Sisulu, a member of the ANC at AB Xuma Branch in the Boland region, and a PhD candidate at Stellenbosch University.

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His LinkedIn profile discloses that he served as a researcher and adviser to the parliamentary portfolio committees for the education, arts and culture, sports and recreation, and science and technology clusters between 2007 and 2017, and before that was a project manager for the publication arm of the Human Sciences Research Council, HSRC Press.

In February this year, amaBhungane visited the village of Lower Didimana, Mdekazi’s childhood home, 28km outside Whittlesea in the Eastern Cape, where we had been told Mdekazi was building his “Nkandla”.

sisulu mthunzi home

Mthunzis home in the Eastern Cape. (Photo: Supplied)

sisulu mthunzi home

Mthunzis home in the Eastern Cape. (Photo: Supplied)

sisulu mthunzi home

Mthunzi’s home in the Eastern Cape. (Photo: Supplied)

That turned out to be an exaggeration, but other rumours of Mdekazi’s iron grip on the village appeared to have more substance.

Between two mountains stood modest homes in desperate need of maintenance. Amid these was a large house that had recently been built.

A few metres from this house, another was under construction. The yard was littered with building materials and villagers told us these houses are what Mdekazi calls home.

In February 2017, Sisulu publicly adopted Velalanga Senior Secondary School in Lower Didimana, which is Mdekazi’s former school — and his wife’s.

sisulu velalanga high school

Velalanga High School in Lower Didimana, Mdekazi’s former school. (Photo: Supplied)

According to a local news report, the following month Sisulu handed over 20 computers to the school.

Andiswa told amaBhungane: “For the record, the intention for the adoption of the school was a culmination of my discussions with Minister Sisulu, not any other person.”

https://www.youtube.com/shorts/JFEQ8NhKlTg

Sisulu said: “I have adopted many schools in my life and I don’t need your permission to do so, as these are private engagements.”

A village elder said that shortly after the donation of computers, Mdekazi brought a company to drill boreholes at Velalanga and promised to return and build a stadium, though this had not materialised.

As we spoke to more people, however, the criticism began and villagers spoke of a man who was a bully and who was feared in the village.

“He hosted a ceremony last year and we, as the villagers, attended. While we were still enjoying ourselves, he began insulting us. He told us to eat because that’s all we were there for. He said he knows we don’t have food in our homes,” said the villager.

“He is a bully because he knows that nobody will challenge him since he has all the ANC connections,” said Mdekazi’s distant family member.

The anecdotes became more troubling as more people spoke out. A relative alleged that during a family gathering towards the end of last year, a disagreement ensued between Mdekazi and another family member, named only as Mphathiswa, which led to Mdekazi allegedly attacking the man in full view of witnesses.

“We tried to resolve the matter as a family, but because most of the family members are unemployed and Mphumzi takes care of them financially, they were all hesitant to reprimand him,” said the relative.

Another relative who witnessed the incident said, “His [family member] didn’t open a case because we all know Mphumzi is connected. He … has all the resources to make the case disappear, so there was no point.”

Contacted for comment, Mphathiswa said the matter was “sensitive” and declined to comment.

Andiswa said: “Last year in December we had no ceremony (where Mphumzi assaulted an elder, animal, child or whatever) in the village. So almost all your questions are misplaced and are akin to an unguided missile and thus dangerous, speculative and are based upon conjecture.”

Murky waters

Mdekazi first came to amaBhungane’s attention in 2020 in the course of the conflict between Sisulu and Zitumane, then CEO of Amatola Water,   and a similar dispute involving the then chief executive of Lepelle Northern Water, Phineas Legodi.

A second amaBhungane story implicated Sisulu in ordering the irregular reinstatement of a powerful South African Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu) shop steward who had been fired following an investigation by the Amatola board. That is significant because the shop steward, Victor Totolo, is said to be a friend of Mdekazi and is reportedly now an important lobbyist for the Sisulu campaign. 

Zitumane signed an affidavit on 23 April 2020 setting out allegations that both Sisulu and Mdekazi had improperly interfered with procurement processes at Amatola — and that her resistance to such interference was at the heart of the fallout which eventually led to Zitumane’s suspension and resignation.

Zitumane claimed that Mdekazi told her that he was in financial trouble and “needs about R35-million to defray the debt incurred for the presidential campaign he led for the minister prior to Nasrec”. 

Sisulu had launched a short-lived campaign to succeed Jacob Zuma as ANC president in July 2017, ahead of the watershed conference at the Nasrec exhibition centre that saw Ramaphosa elected by a narrow margin in December that year. 

Zitumane suggested in her affidavit that Mdekazi’s alleged interest in introducing businessmen to water officials was linked to his supposed financial difficulties, but she was not able to provide any evidence of how Mdekazi was to benefit from procurement decisions.

She did, however, provide a first-hand account of the extent of his influence over the minister, displayed at their initial meeting in August 2019. 

She wrote: “During our conversation at that meeting, he created an impression that he had the authority of running the Department. This impression was further confirmed by the manner in which he related with the Minister on the phone, as the Minister called him whilst we were in the meeting. In the circumstances, I was convinced that indeed he was authorized by the Minister to run the affairs of the Department. At the meeting, he further spoke about projects that Amatola Water could get involved in and his access to National Treasury which may assist in financing such projects.” 

Mdekazi even called the then National Treasury chief procurement officer, Willie Mathebula, and arranged a meeting between the three of them for the next day. 

The affidavit alleges Mdekazi began actively promoting a water abstraction company as a solution to the water shortage in the Eastern Cape — and that Sisulu supported him in this process.

Lepelle Water’s Legodi made similar allegations, though Legodi’s own credibility is strained, given the criminal and asset recovery cases being pursued against him in relation to his erstwhile role at Lepelle.

A second affidavit, dated 28 July 2020, was lodged by Zitumane in a case challenging Sisulu’s appointment of an “interim board” of Amatola Water on 1 February 2020 and its “reappointment” on 22 May 2020.  

Zitumane withdrew this application on or about 27 November 2020 after she had resigned as chief executive of Amatola Water.

In this affidavit, she states: “It bears mentioning that the Board appointments seemed to have had an imprint of one Mr Mpumzi [sic] Mdekazi, who is a ministerial aide, and who seems to command excessive Influence within first respondent’s department. In amplifciation [sic], Mr Mdekazi had hinted to me that he has recommended a very good person to lead the board, who is from Cape Town and is his homeboy.” 

Zitumane added: “Perhaps further illustrative of his touted influence, Mr Mdekazi once boasted to me about his influence in the hiring and firing of board members, and specifically bragged about firing the Housing Development Agency board. He sent me a [text message], which supposedly demonstrated such influence.”

Both Mdekazi and Sisulu have denied interfering unlawfully in procurement decisions and after amaBhungane and other media published some of these allegations, Sisulu filed a R2-million defamation claim against Zitumane in June 2021, citing both affidavits. 

Sisulu sued in her official capacity as minister of human settlements, water and sanitation — and when she was removed from this position her successors appear to have had less appetite to protect her reputation. Her lawyers withdrew earlier this year and the case appears to be in limbo. 

However, the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI, also known as the Hawks) told amaBhungane they had completed their investigation into the allegations of fraud, corruption and tender irregularities reported by Zitumane — and Sisulu and Mdekazi appear to have been cleared. 

Spokesperson Brigadier Thandi Mbambo said: “On completion of the investigation, the matter was referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions for [a] decision after the prosecutor who was involved in the prosecutor-guided investigation declined to prosecute.  

“The decision has since been submitted to the Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions for confirmation on nolle prosequi [a declaration not to prosecute].”

Meanwhile, Ramaphosa, as recently as July 2022, issued a proclamation for the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) to probe allegations at Amatola and Lepelle, which seems at least partly directed at Sisulu and Mdekazi and the sand abstraction technology they are alleged to have punted. The proclamation focuses on the “procurement of, or contracting for, drought relief services and technologies by or on behalf of the Water Boards” in the period after 1 August 2019.  

Sisulu told amaBhungane: “Various matters are before court, which restricts me providing an opinion on same, as I could potentially be called [as] a witness… 

“Before you attempt to get ahead of yourself, ministers don’t sign tenders or projects with financial implications… As for the Lepelle and Amatola Water boards, I am not going to answer you on that as these are matters under the President’s proclamation and we have gathered sufficient evidence to ensure that any persons who have conducted themselves unlawfully are prosecuted and accordingly placed behind bars.” 

With regard to the formation of boards, Sisulu advised amaBhungane to contact the relevant parliamentary chairs “as they were chairing the recruitment panels for water boards”. 

Andiswa echoed this.

Contacts for contracts? 

In Zitumane’s leaked affidavit, she alleged that on numerous occasions Mdekazi attempted to push potential contractors her way. 

“Mr Mdekazi has no authority to give me instructions, nor is there a direct reporting line to him as he is a political appointee and does not feature in any administrative hierarchy. He interfered with the procurement process by giving me a list of service providers to consider,” said Zitumane in the affidavit. 

amaBhungane has seen a WhatsApp message from Sebenzile Bakubaku (a businessman and Mdekazi’s cousin) dated 21 August 2019. In the message, Bakubaku said, “Hi sister..got your number from Mphumzi. I am here in Monti [East London].” 

Bakubaku denied he had benefited from his relationship with Mdekazi, whom he described as “like a brother to me”. 

“I disagree with that,” he told amaBhungane. “I’m a CEO of an established company and I made an appointment with … Zitumane to sell our services. We are a consulting company and we never … submitted a tender to Amatola Water nor got any work from them.” 

On a WhatsApp thread between Zitumane and Mdekazi dated 1 November 2019, Mdekazi said: “I will ask the fellow who once spoke to you to contact and you can tell him what you want from him, as he has everything… He is going to call now”.  

This message was apparently referring to the chair of the water abstraction company.  

Another message to Zitumane seen by amaBhungane features Mdekazi apparently punting Chinese state-owned Power Construction Corporation of China, known as PowerChina. 

He writes: “Hi my Sis, how are you doing? There are guys from Power China that would like to come & see you. Are you in EL or did you come to Jhb for that press conference with Min. Sisulu? Apparently these guys can assist with the water crisis we are facing in the country, they have already spoken to Emngeni & Randwater respectively. If you have time please hear them out to see if they can add any value to your business.” 

PowerChina spokesperson Zhang Peiliang insisted that PowerChina did not know Sisulu or Mdekazi but admitted to having met Zitumane in November 2019. 

“PowerChina learned that a desalination plant would be invested and developed in Eastern Cape and was looking for development partners. In order to better understand the project, [a] team of PowerChina met with Vuyo Zitumane, CEO of Amatola Water, in the Irene Hotel. That was only an introductory meeting for both parties. Later, the project was cancelled and PowerChina’s employees never met with anyone from Amatola Water any more,” said Peiliang. 

Neither Sisulu nor Mdekazi responded to these specific allegations. 

Playing dirty? 

The affidavits and allegations by Zitumane and Legodi clearly struck a nerve. 

Barely weeks later, a letter on a Hawks letterhead emerged, dated 14 May 2020 and addressed to Sisulu and her director-general, concerning an “investigation into allegations of fraud corruption and tender irregularities” against Mdekazi. 

The letter — purportedly signed by Colonel AB Ledwaba of the “Priority Crime Investigation Unit” — delivered an exoneration of Mdekazi, withdrawing charges and stating: “The withdrawal of these charges shows that DPCI is unable to successfully prosecute [the] fraud corruption and tender irregularities inquiry related to Mphumzi Mdekazi.”  

Despite the letter containing red flags suggesting it was not genuine, it immediately set in motion a media campaign. It was leaked to Independent Media, which published a story with the headline, “Hawks report clears Lindiwe Sisulu’s advisor of wrongdoing” quoting Mdekazi as saying: “We were not even surprised by the conclusion of the Hawks.”

Mdekazi himself sent the letter to the Daily Dispatch, according to a later report by journalist Bongani Fuzile.

That same week, Sisulu’s ministry circulated an advertisement about her anti-corruption campaign, which noted: “The case lodged by the CEO of Amatola Water against one of the members of the panel advising the minister has been found to be without merit by the Hawks.”

Except the letter was a fabrication. Within days, City Press reported that Hawks national spokesperson Hangwani Mulaudzi said the letter and its contents were “fake”. The Hawks condemned “the bogus letter with the strongest contempt” and said there was no Colonel Ledwaba within its ranks.

According to the newspaper, Mdekazi was said to have received the letter “through his lawyers”. 

By June 2020, Mdekazi was embroiled in a Hawks investigation into the fake letter and how he had come into possession of it. Mdekazi produced a departmental statement that appeared to double down. It said: “The department has compiled affidavits of the various engagements between the department officials and the directorate with regards to the matter. Such affidavits confirm communications from the directorate which exonerated the adviser of all allegations labelled against him, and at this stage that remains the view of the department.” 

amaBhungane reached out to the Hawks to follow up on progress made in the investigation into the fraudulent letter. Mbambo told us: “The investigation still continues on the matter. No arrests have been made.”

The fake colonel

A former official told amaBhungane that the version inside the department was that Mdekazi might have been duped. But how likely is that? It will be recalled that the fraudulent letter was signed off by “Colonel Ledwaba”. 

The name rang a bell for two former members of the ministerial task team, Lekgotla Dichoetlise and Mogomotsi Mogodiri, who had been fired by Sisulu in April 2020.

In December 2020, they wrote to Hawks boss Godfrey Lebeya asking for an update on the investigation into the fake letter. In an email seen by amaBhungane, they stated: “We … are interested parties in this sad saga as Mr Dichoetlise was telephonically hounded by a person masquerading as a police officer from the DPCI by the name of Col Ledwaba.

“That person also mentioned Mr Mogodiri amongst others during those countless telephone calls. The said Ledwaba claimed that he was investigating a case of corruption and fraud against the two of us based on information he was provided by Mr Mdekazi.

“It might also be of interest to the General to be made aware of the harassment, intimidation and violation of rights culminated in Mr Dichoetlise being unlawfully arrested by other persons also masquerading as police officers,” read the email.

In July 2020, Dichoetlise was detained and questioned by Free State police, reportedly after Sisulu opened a case of defamation and intimidation against him.

The email said the case was struck off the roll by a magistrate in Bultfontein in the Free State for lack of evidence and incorrect jurisdiction.

Neither Sisulu nor Mdekazi responded to these specific allegations.

Chief lobbyist

In the last few months, Sisulu has stepped up her campaign ahead of the official nomination process for the ANC’s elective conference in December 2022, delivering a flurry of thinly disguised stump speeches at a series of lectures and memorial events.

Mdekazi, whom News24 described as “the chief lobbyist in Sisulu’s camp”, told reporters Sisulu was honouring invitations that had been extended to her, and not embarking on a campaign drive, though he emphasised that “several ANC branches, regions, and some provincial leaders” had already made it clear that Sisulu was their preferred presidential candidate.

Sisulu has long been seen as a Trojan horse for the RET faction and in April Mdekazi went so far as to pen an editorial in which he floated the idea of a pairing with former health minister Zweli Mkhize.

“Separately or together, both ANC leaders … Lindiwe Sisulu and Zweli Mkhize — are credible challengers who have a base and popular support to contest President Cyril Ramaphosa’s re-election campaign in the run-up to the ANC’s elective conference,” Mdekazi wrote.

When the Mkhize overtures appeared to fall flat, Mdekazi more recently also represented Sisulu in talks about a joint campaign with Dlamini Zuma.

So far, Sisulu has not featured very prominently in the various electoral slates that have been circulating — and it remains unclear whether delegates will tap her for a top six position.

What is clear is that whatever choice the ANC makes, Sisulu and Mdekazi come as a package — with baggage. DM

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Confucious Says says:

    Horrible people with horrible intentions… no shame either. Unlike an ostrich, these people do not even bother to hide their heads any more!

  • Beyond Fedup says:

    Best to leave these two charlatans (am being really kind here) out in the cold for the sake of this highly abused and devastated country. One can only be profoundly disgusted that such low calibre, useless and moronic cadres could even aspire, let alone lead the nation, and I include NDZ. SA has had more than enough of the pathetic ANC shenanigans, corruption and incompetence. Time to dispose of the rot and stench forever!

  • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

    A very troubling story for a person who is a Minister and carrying the name of a highly respected family from her parents to her brothers whose sacrifice for the people of this country is legendary. It also is a concerning matter given the humility of her parents and brothers who are a reflection of everything that the struggle represented. If she could show half the humility of her brothers and parents she would have had the respect of many. Those of us who have known Zwelakhe for years and his personal demeanour as well as the humility of Max Sisulu removed as Speaker for doing his job are shocked with the contrast of her character and company she keeps. The things she does and says are an embarrassment to the Sisulu legacy. One would never forget the interactions with her father on very crucial issues of the struggle. Firstly, on the issue of the negotiated settlement when they were together with Mandela and on the issue of the violence and peace process in the East Rand.
    A lot has been expected from her and it is not too late to deal with issues in the way they ought to be dealt with. More importantly, it is the moral and ethical compass that must guide her ambitions not the other way round. Decency in dealing with other human beings is critical for any aspirant leader or a person in a leadership position.

    • Pet Bug says:

      Thank you for your insight.

    • Marilyn Small says:

      Substantively researched, detailed article which is very troubling, as well described by Cunningham’s comment above. Sisulu’s personal history aside – it is frightening and shocking to know such people manage critical departments and aspire to manage even more ?! Get them out for the sake of all the good, deserving and many needy people of our beloved country !!

  • Willem Boshoff says:

    Great work once again by South Africa’s world-class independent investigative journalists. We are in your debt as you continue to expose the rot that threatens to engulf this country. This is the reason I gladly pay my monthly subscription.

  • Hermann Funk says:

    Not only do we have to deal with corrupt ministers and other official, now we also have to face someone who is mentally challenged.

  • Heinrich Holt says:

    Just confirming that Ms Sisulu cannot think for herself.

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