Transkei haunts Stella

Stella Sigcau faces damning allegations about her activities in the former homeland during the final years of apartheid. Wally Mbhele and Craig Bishop report

The ghost of the former Transkei came back to haunt Stella Sigcau this week as she faced fresh attacks concerning her activities under the previous government.

Minister of Public Enterprises, Sigcau has been fingered as a key player in the failed coup launched in 1990 by the apartheid government against the former homeland’s military ruler, Bantu Holomisa.

Her role in the alleged financial irregularities of George Matanzima’s Transkei government is also to be investigated by the crack corruption unit headed by Judge Willem Heath.

Sigcau failed to comment before the Mail & Guardian went to press. However, the attacks come at a dangerous time for Sigcau. Questions have already been raised about her ministry’s performance, and whether it is actually needed.

She remains the only African National Congress Cabinet minister associated with the politics of the former homelands to have survived marginalisation by the ANC.

Sigcau was also one of several ANC ministers named by Pan Africanist Congress MP Patricia de Lille late last month as an alleged apartheid spy.

Holomisa told the M&G this week that Sigcau personally approached the then foreign affairs minister Pik Botha in 1989 to request help from the army in unseating Holomisa.

Holomisa had deposed Sigcau, his predecessor, two years earlier, and ousted Matanzima’s Transkei National Independence Party government.

The South Africa government initiated a failed coup in 1990, planned by military intelligence and the police hit squad based at Vlakplaas. “Stella’s manoeuvres culminated in Pretoria taking a decision to support military training and the supplying of weapons to topple us,” Holomisa claims.

Holomisa says Sigcau accompanied Matanzima and his brother KD Matanzima on the trip to Pretoria. “Stella took along some chiefs and former Cabinet ministers of hers to see Pik Botha and others in Pretoria.”

Some of Matanzima’s cohorts were arrested when they returned to Transkei, but Sigcau had remained in Pretoria and turned to Botha for help.

“Pik personally phoned me to say he understands that people who went to see him have been arrested,” Holomisa says. “I said to him that our investigation shows that the meeting was discussing the question of military assistance. Pik confirmed it. He said: ‘Yes general, but we advised them to go and talk to you.’ Pik would have this information in his files.”

Holomisa told of how Botha pleaded with him not to detain Stella because she was afraid of going back to Umtata. However, according to Holomisa, all the detainees were released after 24 hours when the subject of the meeting had been confirmed.

Botha this week dismissed Holomisa’s allegations. “Stella was a very effective and efficient prime minister. She was very much against apartheid. I think she was doing a nice job.”

Botha said the only time he met Sigcau was when she was still a prime minister. “She complained about how the Matanzimas had messed things up.”

Holomisa says the South African government did not immediately respond to Sigcau’s delegation. Pretoria’s patience snapped when Holomisa refused to hand back power to civilian rule following a meeting he had with the then president FW de Klerk and Botha in Umtata in January 1990.

“De Klerk was not pleased that we wanted to have the referendum to test the feelings of the people about whether they still wanted to remain an independent state. I said he must go and jump into the lake,” Holomisa claims.

The abortive coup followed in November 1990. Vlakplaas supplied arms for the coup, which was led by former Transkei head of military intelligence Craig Duli, who was killed. Holomisa has asked the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate who was behind the coup.

Holomisa, now joint leader of the United Democratic Movement, has been involved in a running battle with the ANC ever since he was kicked out of the party in 1996.

His sacking followed the allegations before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, subsequently proven true, that Sigcau had accepted R50 000 from George Matanzima – part of the R2-million bribe gambling magnate Sol Kerzner paid Matanzima to secure gambling rights in the homeland.

The payment, which Sigcau has since confirmed, is one of several areas Heath’s special investigation unit is likely to target as it focuses its attention on Sigcau.

Heath, who is also investigating alleged financial irregularities by Holomisa, says there is “definite scope” to investigate Sigcau.

He has so far held fire only because of the mountain of work currently facing his cash- strapped team.

Heath declines to be drawn on the allegations against Sigcau which he is targeting, but adds that a string of high- profile politicians are “in for a few surprises” over the next few months.

Sigcau has also managed to upset many of her ministry and department officials, with several complaining about the role she plays in recruiting external advisers and other appointments within the department and in the parastatals that her ministry oversees.

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