Calls made by Brett Kebble in the hours before his death provide a fascinating window on the company he kept.
Cellphone records from the last two days of Brett Kebble’s life paint a fascinating, if incomplete, picture of his final movements and conversations.
A chat with Minister in the Presidency Essop Pahad about a multimillion-rand fundraising dinner and a series of phone calls to and from his business associate, Glenn Agliotti, from the area around the murder scene are particularly striking.
Pahad has confirmed that he spoke to Kebble on the day of the murder on September 27 last year. They discussed a promised R3-million donation to a museum project in Timbuktu, which is particularly important to President Thabo Mbeki.
“Brett had undertaken to buy six tables for the Mali project, the museum in Timbuktu,” Pahad said.
He explained that he had organised a fundraising dinner for the museum, with tables priced at R500Â 000 each. He had called Kebble, he said, because he had been informed by Kebble’s office that the money would not be paid.
“He said no, no, the money will be paid in the next day or two.”
Pahad also confirmed that he had met Kebble at various times, but that they never discussed Kebble’s financial and political difficulties: “We didn’t discuss that sort of thing.”
Instead, he said, they had philosophical discussions: “[Kebble] had some quite innovative ideas about the relationship between workers and employers, particularly in the mining sector.”
Pahad also said his widely reported remarks at Kebble’s funeral, enjoining people to keep their conversations with the dead man private, had been misconstrued. “He said things about people—including his own family—things that were said in a confidential manner.” He had not meant to suggest that people should withhold information from a criminal investigation.
Pahad spoke to Kebble at 4.12pm on the day of the murder.
The day before
At 8.50am, his personal assistant sent an SMS informing him of an invitation from his black empowerment business partner, Sello Rasethaba, to have dinner the next night.
“Sello has invited you to dinner tmrw @ his home—guests = brenda, linda makatini, hage heingob. Yes/No,” she wrote.
Then, at 2.11pm, when Kebble had arrived in Johannesburg, she asked again: “sello pushing for yr answer to his invitation (extended this morning) for dinner tmrw night. yes/no.”
“Ask him if I can pop in and see him 4 ten mins this eve at 8 to talk abt lebo. Tks”, Kebble replied.
“He’s expecting you tonight @ 20h00,” came the reply, three minutes later.
At 6.08pm the day before the murder, when he was still at home, Kebble got an SMS from Trish Beale, the JCI company secretary who, it would later emerge, had played a central role in some of the larger frauds perpetrated within the group. “Hi Brett, we’ve moved the JCI board meeting from this Wednesday to Tuesday 11 October. We’ll send out the change of date tomorrow and hope you ok with the date? Bye T.”
Kebble was no longer on the board of JCI, so he had no influence on the date, but this postponed by a fortnight what was likely to be a very difficult confrontation about the discoveries the new management team was making.
Just over an hour later, at 7.27pm, John Stratton, a JCI director who was intimately involved in most aspects of Kebble’s business life, called him from his Bishop’s Court home. They spoke for less than half a minute. Kebble then called back from the phone in his S500 Mercedes, as he drove toward the spot where he would be killed the next night. This time they spoke for nearly eight minutes.
Shortly after hanging up, Kebble phoned Agliotti. The call was relayed to the Italian by the Oaklands 3 cellphone tower, the same mast that would later pick up calls from the crime scene. They spoke for 37 seconds.
Ten minutes later, at 8.09pm, Kebble sent SMS messages to Rasethaba and spin doctor Dominic Ntsele. “I am running late,” he said.
A flurry of phone calls between Kebble and Agliotti, as Kebble moved around in the vicinity of what would become the murder scene the next night, ensued.
Kebble was now nearly 20 minutes late for his meeting with Rasethaba, who phoned him three times in just over two minutes, on each occasion getting voice mail.
Eventually Ntsele sent an SMS to Kebble: “Ok, I am at the restaurant,” he said. Again Agliotti called Kebble’s car phone, and they spoke for a minute and a half. Ten minutes later Kebble contacted Ntsele again. “Order so long and I will join u. Sori to b late. I hate it.”
“Don’t worry, U told me upfront that U are going to be hectic,” Ntsele replied.
The day of the murder
The next morning just after 7am, Kebble was still putting off the meeting. “Hi dom. I am not feeling well had bad biltong snacks last eve. Can we meet latr. Shud b nk by lunch. Apologies.”
An hour later, an SMS from his butler informed him: “Mr Kebble, mr ntsele is here.” The meeting didn’t happen then either. Over the course of the morning and early afternoon he took various calls from business associates, and once again, from Agliotti.
At 3.10pm an SMS from journallist David Gleason informed Kebble that Neal Froneman, his adversary at Aflease, had secured permission from the Reserve Bank for a deal to restructure the company.
A text message now went to Lunga Ncwana, an ANC Youth League member who had been involved in many business deals with Kebble: “Pl ph me.”
After another brief call to Ntsele, he spoke briefly to Peter Gray, his old friend and stockbroker who had now taken over his positions at JCI and Randgold & Exploration.
At 6.40pm there was more bad news. An SMS from African National Congress Youth League member Andile Nkuhlu to Gray, copied to Kebble said, “Peter ps call me its urgent. I need to share the bad news from lazarus.”
Despite support from then-Anglo American CEO Lazarus Zim, the Anglo American board had turned down JCI’s offer for shares it held in Western Areas. Anglo wanted another R40-million, which JCI could not pay, and without those shares, the elaborate Inkwekwezi empowerment deal would unravel.
Two hours of radio silence ensued before Kebble again called John Stratton, and they spoke for just over four minutes.
While they were talking, an SMS arrived from Terrence, who told the M&G he was friend and prayer partner of Kebble: “Thinking of u, up in the Crags, cold, raining now, nice sound on the roof. Just love God, He’ll pull you thru. Let go + let God have his way. Luv u, t.”
“I just felt he was a very very special guy,” Terrence (his full name has been withheld) said. “He was on the way [to God]. I think God wanted to do huge things with him.” A number of Kebble’s close associates were born-again Christians and he had recently been baptised.
Kebble did not reply. He finished the call to Stratton as he was driving past the Wanderers, switched to his car phone and immediately called his family at Lily Cottage, their home at Malgas on the banks of the Breede river. He spoke to someone there for seven minutes as he drove toward Oaklands, and his death.
Kebble ended the call to his family at 8.52pm. Police put his time of death at around 9pm.
But nearly an hour elapsed before voice mails began piling up. Calls came in from Rasethaba at 10.15pm, no doubt wondering where his dinner guest was, and from [spokesperson] David Barrit, at 10.18pm. Agliotti called again at 10.27pm and 10.41pm.
By this time police from the anti-hijack unit were on the scene, and members of the Kebble communication team knew he was dead.
Still, Stratton called from his home, where a small group of JCI’s Cape Town staff were gathering.
Clement Jackson, once a senior detective in the diamond and gold branch, latterly a “consultant” to Kebble, was particularly insistent, calling repeatedly, as he had throughout the day.
At 10.55pm came the first call from a journalist, Nicky Smith, at Business Report, who had recently done a long interview with Kebble. When she could not get through she sent a text message.
“Heard an absurd rumour that you had been killed! Pls call me the Star is trying to confirm the story ...”
Peter Bruce, the editor of Business Day, also called.
And the messages carried on into the next two days, into a strange electronic afterlife.
“Dear dad we all miss u so much,” came a text message from Ingrid Kebble’s phone, on the morning of September 29. And not much later, a farewell in Italian, slightly accented with a regional dialect:
“Ciao Brett ci vediamo in paradiso per la ultima carbonara. Dio dia forza alla tua famiglia e la consoli nei dolore fanin [Goodbye Brett. We will meet in Paradise for the last carbonara. God give strength to your family, that they may be consoled in their sadness at the end].”