/ 12 June 1998

Mbuli: I knew too much

Tangeni Amupadhi

The People’s Poet, Mzwakhe Mbuli, believes he may have been set up on robbery charges because he was poised to blow the whistle on a drugs and gun-running ring involving top government officials.

This week Mbuli shed some light on a smuggling conspiracy between South Africa and Swaziland as a possible reason why he was framed for a bank robbery. He was arrested in October last year and has been in jail since, failing to secure bail on three occasions.

The Royal Swazi Police confirmed they were in contact with Mbuli two months before his arrest and were discussing “sensitive” information.

In August last year Mbuli went to Swaziland as the star performer at an anti-drug-abuse concert organised by the country’s National Crime Prevention Council. The Swazi organisers paid him to spend two days in the country, ostensibly to make enough time to speak to him.

“They said if I’m genuine about fighting drugs, I should help them – that I should take some information personally to [President Nelson] Mandela,” said Mbuli from Pretoria Central prison, where he is awaiting trial. “You see, people think because it’s Mzwakhe I’m close to Mandela. Those people [in Swaziland] didn’t want to trust anyone.”

The information allegedly implicates government officials and former South African Police officers in a drugs and arms-smuggling syndicate.

Says KS Ndlovu, Swazi police representative: “When Mr Mbuli came here, we spoke about a lot of things. Some of these are things that you cannot talk about over the telephone. It is quite impossible for me to comment about these issues. They are too sensitive.”

Back in South Africa, Mbuli had a meeting with the former Gauteng MEC for safety and security, Jessie Duarte, her department head Mkhabela Sibeko and a National Intelligence Agency operative called Mountain.

Sibeko says the purpose of the meeting was for the poet to “raise his anger” about the slow progress made in the investigation into an attempt to assassinate him.

“He alluded to this issue of drug smuggling – not arms – and about a chap in Swaziland, a drug pusher, who was hosting government officials. He was saying he has information but will talk more about it at a high political level – the level of the president’s office,” Sibeko says.

Less than two months later police arrested Mbuli outside Pretoria, a few minutes after a nearby bank was robbed.

Police said they found R15 000, a hand grenade and several hand guns in the possession of the poet. Mbuli says he had R1 850 at the time and his licensed pistol. One of the two bodyguards arrested with him also had a licensed firearm.

Police subsequently linked Mbuli to other robberies – one of a Randburg businessman robbed of R200 000, another of a bottle store where R900 was taken. But some of the cases are already beginning to collapse. In one of the robberies, at least three of Mbuli’s alleged accomplices were in police custody at the time when the incidents happened.

Mbuli says he was not in the bank that day. He says he drove to Pretoria to meet a stranger who claimed he had information about the attempt on his life. The stranger gave a bag to Mbuli and his two bodyguards, and told them to drive away quickly. They were arrested within 15 minutes and R13 000 was found in the bag.

The Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD) last month began speeding up its investigation into the police handling of Mbuli’s case. ICD deputy director for special investigations Julian Snitcher says it is not probing whether Mbuli was involved in crime – it is looking into various allegations of malpractice in the case – but he adds that all aspects will be looked into.

Mbuli, who did not manage to pass information on to Mandela, says he cannot say more about the drugs and arms-smuggling case.

But Ndlovu says: “There are a lot of things that will come out in the court and if I talk about some of these things now it may prejudice him.”

Mbuli himself appears to be in high spirits, pointing out that he is not over- confident: “I’m more than confident the truth will out.”

From behind the glass dividing the visitors’ cubicle, Mbuli talks the way he recites poems, moving sideways, putting his hand on the glass and booming into the speaker with his powerful voice.

Behind bars he continues to write poems, like these lines about his arrest: “My underpants pulled down/My private parts exposed/Is this the new South Africa/I am vulgar proof.”