Staff in the communications department have pointed fingers at Minister Dina Pule's unethical appointments, writes Lloyd Gedye.
Communications Minister Dina Pule is in the spotlight after a dossier of allegations against her was leaked to the Mail & Guardian this week.
The dossier, substantial elements of which were independently confirmed to the M&G by communication department officials familiar with the circumstances, paints a picture of a web of influence Pule is alleged to have set up in the department of communications, the South African Post Office and the SABC.
The documents go to great lengths to point out who the major players in the department, the post office and the SABC are and how they are connected to each other.
The dossier, which it is claimed was prepared by staff in the department, is detailed and appears to have been prepared with the aim of targeting Pule.
It alleges that Pule, alongside her alleged "romantic" interest, businessperson Phosane Mngqibisa, has connived to fill key positions in the department, the post office and the SABC through nepotism and the promotion of close colleagues.
During the M&G's investigation into Pule and Mngqibisa this week, a number of links between Mngqibisa and the ANC were uncovered, suggesting that he is quite politically connected.
In a meeting at the M&G's offices this week Pule denied any wrong-doing, but she refused to comment on the nature of her relationship with Mngqibisa.
"When I travel I do invite friends and family members to travel with me, but they are private people, unlike me, and I must respect their privacy," she said.
Pule said she did not know who was plotting against her and whether their intentions were to embarrass her or President Jacob Zuma.
She claimed there was a "vendetta" and a "witch-hunt" being instituted against her.
"These people are my colleagues and they should just talk to me," she said.
Pule did not hide the fact that there was internal strife in the department and some of her own staff were targeting her.
Sources sympathetic to the Pule camp suggest the minister is the subject of a smear campaign aimed at embarrassing her and Zuma in the build-up to the ANC conference in Mangaung in December.
It is unclear what the goals of the faction targeting Pule are, but it is framed as a battle for influence and power in the information, communication and technology sector.
Pule and Mngqibisa had previously been romantically linked and mired in controversy after the Sunday Times broke a story alleging Mngqibisa had benefited from a government-sponsored information technology conference held in Cape Town earlier this year.
It has been reported that Telkom, MTN and Vodacom contributed R25.7-million to the ICT Indaba conference and the government put up R10.5-million.
Mngqibisa is alleged to have withdrawn large sums of this money from the bank accounts of Carol Bouwer Productions, the organisers of the indaba with which his company, Khemano, was working.
The allegations are being investigated by the auditor general's office, but there have been calls for the public protector to investigate because the former cannot access records for private bank accounts. The public protector, Thuli Madonsela, has declined to investigate.
Pule denied any wrongdoing regarding the ICT Indaba this week, claiming that the previous communications minister, the late Roy Padayachie, contracted Carol Bouwer Productions and she had not intervened to get Khemano involved.
But two departmental insiders contradicted Pule's version of events this week.
The M&G also spoke to five independent sources who all confirmed that there was a "romantic relationship" between Pule and Mngqibisa.
These included sources close to Pule in the department and in greater ANC circles. One of them described the relationship as an "open secret".
The key allegations in the dossier are as follows:
- Pule is romantically linked with Mngqibisa, a director of the Khemano group of companies;
- Mngqibisa was listed on the department's human resources database as Pule's travel companion in 2009 and continues to travel with the minister;
- Pule brought Mngqibisa and Khemano into the indaba fold, insisting that another company be removed from the organising of the event;
- SABC chief Lulama Mokhobo, appointed by Pule, is Mngqibisa's aunt;
- lAndiswa Booysen, a known employee and Mngqibisa's colleague in various companies, was appointed as project manager in Pule's office in March 2012; and
- Buhle Mthethwa, a former National African Federated Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Nafcoc) president, was appointed to the board of the post office owing to her closeness to Mngqibisa.
In verifying the allegations of the dossier, the M&G established from two department sources that Mngqibisa was indeed listed on its human resources database as Pule's travel companion in 2009.
The M&G also verified from two department sources that Pule was alleged to have interfered with Khemano's appointment to help with the ICT Indaba.
The M&G has not been able to verify whether Mokhobo is Mngqibisa's aunt.
Numerous attempts to contact Mngqibisa were unsuccessful, even after messages were left with his assistant, who said she would get Mngqibisa to contact the newspaper.
Mokhobo directed the M&G to SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago when approached for comment.
Kganyago said Mokhobo was appointed appropriately and all processes had been followed. Therefore, the SABC was not in a position to comment on her suggested relationship with Mngqibisa.
"As far as we are concerned, all processes for the appointment were followed. The SABC has followed all the processes to the letter.
"It is also important to remind you that Mokhobo was an executive at the SABC from 2005 to 2010 and she successfully headed the public broadcasting services division," said Kganyago. "She left the SABC at her own volition.
"The process that was followed and led to the appointment of Mokhobo as group chief executive was initiated during early 2011 before the appointment of Pule as minister of communications. This is a clear indication that her appointment cannot be attributed to a single minister as alleged in the story you are putting together."
Pule said this week that the proper process had been followed for Mokhobo's appointment and she had been acting on the SABC's recommendations.
She denied having any know-ledge of the suggested relationship between Mokhobo and Mngqibisa.
"How am I meant to know the relations of other people, really?" said Pule.
However, two department sources insisted Pule had forced Mokhobo's appointment on the SABC board and knew that she was Mngibisa's aunt.
Pule confirmed that Booysen was appointed as project manager in Pule's office in March this year, but claimed she did not know of any link to Mngqibisa.
Booysen promised to provide the M&G with comment, but later said she was happy for the minister to answer any questions.
Pule similarly claimed not to know that Mthethwa was close to Mngqibisa, with the latter acting as a spokesperson for Mthethwa's camp in her hotly contested election campaign for the Nafcoc presidency.
Mthethwa refused to comment this week. – Additional reporting: Craig McKune & Sally Evans
Pule 'companion' has tight links with ANC
During the Mail & Guardian's investigation into Dina Pule and Phosane Mngqibisa this week, a number of connections between him and the ANC were uncovered.
Mngqibisa sat on boards with ANC treasurer general Mathews Phosa and Free State premier Ace Magashule.
His company, Khemano, also lists the SABC, the Free State provincial health department and the ANC as clients.
In 2009 Khemano was responsible for organising ANC election rallies. This involved providing all stage, lighting, logistical and event planning as well as the printing and distribution of posters, leaflets, manifesto booklets and T-shirts.
Khemano also provided technical support for other ANC provincial election rallies in 2009.
In 2010 Khemano was part of a consortium with Matchworld Marketing that received the multimillion-rand contracts to manage the Soccer World Cup fan parks in Sandton, Soweto and Centurion.
However, of most concern if the allegations about Pule and Mngqibisa's web of influence are true, is how Khemano is set up to play in the space that is governed by the department of communications.
Khemano's website states: "Our established relationships enable us to provide licensing rights for broadcasting entertainment and sports.
"Our partnerships with main broadcasters in South Africa provide us with a range of programming and networks. This allows us to grow the business to emerging markets across the borders."