Leaks to the media about the imminent arrest of two high-ranking politicians in KwaZulu-Natal this week have heightened concerns in the ANC and its allies that state institutions are being used to fight political battles ahead of the ANC conference in Mangaung next year.
Last weekend the Sunday Tribune reported that “police were poised to arrest” Peggy Nkonyeni, KwaZulu-Natal legislature speaker, and Mike Mabuyakhulu, provincial economic development minister, on fraud and corruption charges relating to an alleged R1-million donation to the provincial ANC by Uruguayan businessman Gaston Savoi.
South African Communist Party provincial secretary Themba Mthembu criticised the manner in which the arrests were announced and said that his party was “uncomfortable” with the directorate of public prosecutions making public the fact that arrest warrants had been signed before the arrests were made. Mthembu said the announcement had “all the hallmarks of political interference”.
Several ANC members, speaking to the Mail & Guardian on condition of anonymity, echoed this and complained that the directorate of public prosecutions’s “unprecedented announcements” were an attempt to discredit Nkonyeni and Mabuyakhulu as the ANC leadership battle heats up.
At the time of going to press, no arrests had been made.
ANC members in the troubled Moses Mabhida region, where the rank and file have rebelled against the leadership of Zweli Mkhize, the KwaZulu-Natal premier and ANC chairman, believe the Mabuyakhulu-Nkonyeni exposé is part of a larger campaign to ensure Mkhize retains his position at the ANC’s provincial conference at the end of the year.
‘Springboard to challenge Mkhize’
The M&G has confirmed that ANC caucuses in at least two regions, Moses Mabhida and the North Coast, have approached Mabuyakhulu to stand against Mkhize.
Mabuyakhulu is originally from rural Ngwavuma in the North Coast region and his supporters there are understood to want him to stand for the regional chairman position at the upcoming regional conferences. If successful, they expect him to use the position as a springboard to challenge Mkhize for leadership of the province later this year.
Mabuyakhulu refused to comment on the issue.
Mkhize is deemed in some circles to have moved away from the faction supporting ANC president Jacob Zuma’s claim for a second term and to have realigned himself with the “Mvela Group” headed by presidential aspirant Tokyo Sexwale.
This is causing consternation in KwaZulu-Natal, despite Mkhize consistently denying that he is plotting against Zuma.
His spokesperson, Ndabe Sibiya, referred the M&G to KwaZulu-Natal secretary Sihle Zikalala for comment on claims that this week’s revelations and imminent arrests were politically motivated.
Zikalala could not be contacted on Thursday, but he had earlier in the week dismissed claims of political plotting, saying the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal was “united” and that it stood behind both Mabuyakhulu and Nkonyeni.
But some ANC members see a similar pattern to the pre-Polokwane succession battle. Said one: “Before the provincial 2008 conference Nkonyeni was seen to be making a play for leadership of the province. Suddenly there were media reports that she was to end up in court facing corruption charges [relating to the health department purchasing hospital equipment at inflated prices]. Then the charges were dropped. There’s something fishy here.”
The charges were, in fact, dropped because a key witness was unable to testify because of stress. But the National Prosecuting Authority could reopen the case.
Business as usual
An ANC insider sympathetic to Mabuyakhulu said: “If he accepted the R1-million [from Savoi] it was in his capacity as provincial treasurer. He would then have had to report the donation to the provincial executive committee, which would have been aware of it.”
In an interview with the M&G earlier this year, Savoi said payments to the ANC in 2007 and 2008 were unrelated to contracts but were donations in the “ordinary course of business” requested by high-profile ANC members close to his business dealings.
One of these could be suspended Ithala Bank boss Sipho Shabalala, who formerly served as treasury head under Mkhize and later as KwaZulu-Natal’s economic minister.
Shabalala, his wife Ntombi, Savoi and several others face charges for irregularly awarding a R45-million contract to Intaka, a Savoi company, to provide water purifiers and oxygen generators to the provincial health department in 2007. The money was released from a poverty alleviation fund, without following proper tender processes.
It is understood that corruption, fraud and money laundering feature among the charges.
It has also been alleged that in 2007, after the contract was awarded, Shabalala solicited the R1-million donation from Savoi for the provincial ANC. At the time Mabuyakhulu was ANC provincial treasurer and Nkonyeni provincial health minister.
This week Simphiwe Mlotshwa, acting provincial director of public prosecutions, told the Tribune its investigations revealed that the duo should face corruption and fraud charges that “have an umbilical connection to the matter involving Dr Savoi”.
Mthembu urged Justice Minister Jeff Radebe to intervene in the matter involving Mabuyakhulu and Nkonyeni and called for prosecutions chief Menzi Simelane to “explain the leaks and the [subsequent] delays in [their] arrest and prosecution — The buck stops with Menzi”.
Responding to claims of political interference, NPA spokesperson Mthunzi Mhaga said: “We won’t be drawn into political statements made in the media, as whatever we are doing is within the confines of the law.”
Mhaga confirmed that arrest warrants were signed on July 4, with the understanding that, after further investigation, “additional individuals should also be arrested”.
He said that after further consultation the prosecuting authorities had asked the police to hold back the execution of the warrants “to enable the prosecuting team to prepare the relevant charge sheet”.