/ 8 April 2011

Kebble ‘mentored’ Mbalula

Kebble 'mentored' Mbalula

Slain mining magnate Brett Kebble was one of Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula’s earliest mentors, coaching him on what to say and how to say it at ANC Youth League rallies, a new book, Killing Kebble, by journalist Mandy Wiener, reveals.

Kebble was a known benefactor of youth league leaders at the time, notably, Andile Nkuhlu and Lunga Ncwana.

Although the book focuses largely on the murder trial that followed Kebble’s alleged “assisted suicide”, Wiener devotes some space to his relationships with the league’s young leaders in the early 2000s.

Mbalula was then preparing to become league president and spent much time at Kebble’s home in the upmarket Johannesburg suburb of Atholl.

Wiener quotes Kebble’s butler, Andrew Minnaar, who provided “scandalous recollections” of Mbalula’s behaviour during visits to Kebble’s house.

Minnaar told Wiener that Kebble bought pay-as-you-go phones for the league members and would use only specific handsets to communicate with them.

“Brett was coaching the ANC Youth League and those phones were bought particularly for a youth league rally so Brett could stay in touch with them in terms of what they’d say, how they’d say it, what would happen.

“Fikile was here often. He’d come here and in like an hour he’d finish a bottle of Johnny Walker Blue Label. Flat. Flat,” Minnaar told Wiener. “They were like children in the house. They’d always be looking for something to eat and would drink only champagne.”

Minnaar remembers a Christmas party at Kebble’s home that “was like a children’s party the way they were behaving. Fikile was quite arrogant. He treated me just like a thing.”

‘Used to the good life’
Contacted by the Mail & Guardian, Mbalula was outraged at Minnaar’s comments saying he was used to the good life before he met Kebble.

“Socially I wasn’t a moegoe. Minnaar is a shameless moron who wants to be rich at the expense of a dead man. If there’s anybody who is coached it is him. He is coached by the [now defunct] Scorpions, those are his handlers.”

Kebble’s former personal assistant, Laura Sham, confirmed Minnaar’s version of events to Wiener. “They’d be fine when they arrived, but the more they drank, they’d become hooligans. I knew Fikile drank quite a bit. They behaved like absolute hooligans.”

Mbalula turned out to be a fair-weather friend. Sham remembers the day Kebble’s youth league associates refused to acknowledge him or his financial support for them.

“He gave them R4-million for their conference one year. Brett’s name was in the papers a lot at the time and he wasn’t looking good. They actually said to him ‘please don’t come to the conference’ after he funded their conference — Brett came into the office and he was so downtrodden. He said to me: ‘How quickly they forget’ — It was a slap in the face.”

Former youth league leaders deny this, claiming that Kebble was invited to the 2004 conference at Nasrec outside Johannesburg but decided not to attend. After Kebble’s death in 2005, the trustees of his estate reportedly sent letters of demand to the ANC and Ncwana, who they claim owed the estate R14-million. Ncwana claimed that the money from Kebble was payment for services he had rendered to Kebble’s company, JCI.

This week Mbalula said his relationship with Kebble was cordial, but that he did not see him as a mentor.

“I couldn’t be coached by anyone. Kebble was well versed and well informed, he had views that he would share with us, but that doesn’t amount to coaching.” Mbalula admitted, however, that he had a “direct line” to Kebble and that on the day of his death they had spoken on the phone while Kebble was driving to see business associate Sello Rasethaba.

“When I heard he was dead I drove from Polokwane to his house and found [businessman] John Stratton coordinating condolences.” Kebble’s relationship with the youth league and its leaders was one of mutual benefit, Mbalula said.

“He wanted political capital out of that relationship to advance his business interests and the youth league wanted to advance its business interests.” Nkuhlu said he was employed by Kebble at the time and that there was, therefore, nothing wrong with visiting his house.

“Brett was our friend. We will always honour him. We’ll never disown him. Even with all these things, he was good to us. He gave us a chance to build our own companies,” Nkuhlu said.

He said that the claims by Kebble’s staff cited by Wiener were an attempt to cast Mbalula in a bad light because of the ANC’s conference next year, when he is expected to contest the position of secretary general. Ncwana declined to comment.