/ 28 February 2009

Big cheese’s squeeze?

After two hours with Kelebogile Mmokwa, Mmanaledi Mataboge still can’t work out if she knows the president intimately — or at all

When I call Kelebogile Mmokwa to ask her about rumours that she was never involved with President Kgalema Motlanthe, but had been set up by party insiders to create a scandal as part of a smear campaign against him, she invites us to visit her at her mother’s house in Carletonville.

The photographer and I get hopelessly lost getting there, so Mmokwa walks several blocks to find us and escort us to the house.

She is chatty and mentions that she’s still 23 (until April), but now that she’s forever branded in the popular imagination as 24, she’ll go with the flow. Her make-up is immaculate, her hair freshly plaited and her nails French manicured.

A yellow gold diamond ring that, she says coyly, but vaguely, is an engagement ring from her ”high-profile politician boyfriend” decorates her wedding finger.

The lounge is adorned with family photographs and an ANC flag. Even her father’s party’s membership card is pasted to the wall.

Mmokwa seems relaxed and tells us to feel free to ask her anything. But at the first question — how well does she know Kgalema Motlanthe? — she changes her mind. ”I don’t think I like talking about my life.”

She revs up again when asked about the inconsistency of her comments to media since the story first broke. ”Well, you wrote the story, but are we going to break up? No — The only person I’m worried about is Kgalema. I’m worried about how he feels.”

Almost an hour into our confusing conversation, it’s still hard to say whether she is a presidential intimate or a troubled young woman seeking attention. Earlier one of her former classmates told me ”she talks big”. The classmate also claimed that Mmokwa matriculated from Tlhoafalo Secondary School in Sannieshof, not Carletonville High, as she says.

Her answers raise more questions as the interview continues: she gives different responses to the same question and frequently contradicts herself. ”I know people say I am cuckoo — they say I’m nuts,” she says at one point.

Perhaps sensing my scepticism, she shows me a picture of herself and Motlanthe on her cellphone. It’s in black and white, their faces are close to each other, but she refuses to show me the picture a second time when I ask, to check its authenticity. This is the only ”evidence” Mmokwa has been able to produce of knowing Motlanthe — or even of having met him.

She becomes defensive when the authenticity of her claims are questioned and talks about herself in the third person. ”I don’t think Kelebogile Mmokwa runs the country, Kgalema does. After work he goes home, sees Kele, and they are happy.”

While Mmokwa makes us drinks, we return to the mystery ”high-profile politician” in her life: ”I don’t get to see him as much as I would like to because he is busy.”

She is at pains to clear up the ”love child” issue, saying she miscarried in December last year. But she will say only that it was ”a politician’s child”.

She says she attended Motlanthe’s inauguration in Cape Town and was in Polokwane for the ANC’s 2007 conference, but won’t say who invited her to the two events.

Mmokwa continues to hold out the teasing promise of more. ”Let the dust settle. After the 22nd [the April election day] we will talk.”