Bitter tussle over Moeletsi Mbeki mansion

Happier times: Moeletsi Mbeki and Shehnilla Mohammed have been friends for 30 years.

Happier times: Moeletsi Mbeki and Shehnilla Mohammed have been friends for 30 years.

Court papers served in an acrimonious dispute between Moeletsi Mbeki and his estranged lover allege that Mbeki is a man of "vast wealth" who claimed that he could spend R1-million a day from the proceeds of his British Aerospace shares, and who bought a $2.5-million mansion in Mauritius — which he still owns.

Shehnilla Mohammed, who says she started an "intimate relationship" with Mbeki in 2005 but has been his friend for 30 years, is fighting Mbeki's attempt to evict her from a R3-million house in Dainfern, Johannesburg, that they jointly own and have lived in since 2007.

Mbeki's think-tank, the Forum for Public Dialogue, is engaged in a labour court case of unfair dismissal after Mbeki, pleading poverty, moved to retrench all three staff members.

If the court rules in favour of the employees, the forum and Mbeki are likely to be collectively liable to pay the three R1.6-million to settle their two-year contracts.

The forum's main funder withdrew support after Mbeki clashed with his former chief executive officer, Prince Mashele, in relation to a Cosatu shop-steward study that Mashele claimed Mbeki helped to delay when it was supposed to be released.

Mbeki has threatened to sue this newspaper for R20-million for publishing the contents of Mashele's resignation letter and allegations that he delayed the release of the study to protect his business interests. Mbeki is also executive chairperson of television production company Endemol South Africa, and deputy chairperson of the South African Institute of International Affairs, an independent think-tank based at Wits University.

One of the top brains behind Agang SA
​Mbeki is said to be one of the top brains behind the formation of Agang SA, a political platform led by former anti-apartheid activist and businesswoman Mamphela Ramphele.

Mohammed claims Mbeki is conducting "a strategised ploy of harassment, intimidation and outright bullying" to drive her out of the house, and has launched court action in a bid to bully her and her children "into submission on his terms and to punish her for taking the decision to end the relationship".

In his motion to evict, Mbeki alleges that Mohammed and her two children, Zayaad Khan (18) and Feroz Khan (23), are making his occupation of the house untenable.

He says he is not allowed "free and unfettered" access and that the Khan boys are openly belligerent and aggressive towards him, making him feel like an unwanted guest.

They also used an "alarming amount of electricity and water", which he had to pay for. Mohammed also regularly sent him abusive and harassing SMSes.

He has asked the South Gauteng High Court to grant an eviction order.
He also wants Mohammed to sign over her 50% share of the property to him, arguing that she has breached their verbal agreement to pay half the deposit, bond repayments and other costs associated with the purchase of the property.

Mohammed, a former journalist and head of Oxfam South Africa who now works as a development consultant, is challenging this, claiming Mbeki gave her joint ownership of the house and promised to bear all associated costs to assure her of his commitment to their relationship.

She said she had demanded this because Mbeki had a "penchant for casual relationships" with women, which were invariably "loose arrangements underpinned by some cohabitation arrangement in rented premises". Once the relationship ended, as it invariably did, Mbeki would move to new rented premises.

As his confidante and "bosom pal" for more than 30 years, she was aware that he had been married and divorced twice and that, before they became intimate, he was seeing two other women at the same time. She made it clear that their relationship could not involve a similar casual arrangement.

To indicate his good faith, Mbeki first proposed marriage, which she refused. Mohammed said he then purchased the house for both of them with a separate wing to give her children space.

Joint ownership
​"My joint ownership of the property expense-free was the fulfilment of the applicant's [Mbeki's] promise and show of good faith and commitment to our relationship in the long term and stood, because he expressly wanted it to, as my security and substitute for the benefits that would normally flow from a civil marriage."

As she still co-owns the house, she says that she is entitled to live there until an amicable resolution over the disposal of the property on equitable terms is reached.

In her deposition, Mohammed claims that Mbeki told her he had enough money to support her and the children thanks to his various business dealings, and intimated that from dividends on his shares in British Aerospace alone, he could easily spend "a million a day" without exhausting his funds.

She was aware of "his vast wealth", which he did not try to hide. Later in their relationship, he purchased a house in Mauritius for $2.5-million in cash, which was renovated under Mohammed's supervision.

Mbeki knew that she was still paying off a bond on her own Sandton townhouse and had financial obligations towards her school-going sons. To alleviate her fears and his concern that she would not be able to afford the house "should anything happen to him", he also took out a policy on his life with the Momentum Group, making her the sole beneficiary, she says. This would pay the outstanding bond upon his death, effectively giving her ownership of the property.

Mohammed denies any obligation under their cohabitation agreement to bear costs associated with the house. In terms of their agreement, she says, Mbeki had covered all costs up to the present, while she had to supplement the household running costs while she was employed.

In her counter-claim, Mohammed says Mbeki has made her living conditions difficult by "throwing his weight" around, by constantly insinuating that her and her boys are "squatters" in his house, and "openly and belligerently verbalising his intolerance of their presence". She says he has refused to communicate, even in writing, on simple housekeeping and safety issues.

Mbeki had also demanded advance notice of visits by guests or family and said that no one should stay in the house for longer than three days without his consent.

The demand was "ludicrous and an infringement of their rights to socialisation and association", she said.

Mbeki appends some of Mohammed's SMSes to his application. One, dated May 17 2012, says: "The grt thing about it [the dispute] being in Court is I can make sure all the media is there … I think it will be fun ... :)"

In her deposition, Mohammed denies the messages are harassing or intimidating, arguing that her last communication, dated June 2012, spoke of "healing our friendship over a cup of coffee".

In a fresh affidavit filed last month, Mbeki says Mohammed's entire affidavit is inaccurate, but that it would be a "fruitless" exercise to deal with each and every allegation.

Justifying the eviction, he says that Mohammed has her own property in South Africa and has packed and "is ready to move at a moment's notice". In addition, her children are adults, and are quite capable of finding jobs to pay for their own accommodation.

Contacted this week for a further response, Mbeki refused to comment.

Explosion of military millions
Moeletsi Mbeki was an early beneficiary of the black economic empowerment policy he now criticises, ironically because of the military expertise built up under the apartheid state and then sold off cheaply by firms wanting to distance themselves from its legacy.

In July 2001, the Mail & Guardian reported that Mbeki was a partner in a company poised to buy into Vickers-OMC, formerly Reumech-OMC, the South African company responsible for designing and building some of the country's most effective armoured vehicles, including the mine-protected Nyala, the Rooikat and the Olifant tank.

In mid-1999, Reumech-OMC had been sold by the South African defence conglomerate Reunert to the British defence company Vickers for R120-million, reportedly with the proviso that Vickers bring on board an empowerment partner.

By that stage it was known that the government had decided not to go ahead with the acquisition of new battle tanks, which were part of the original arms deal procurement proposals but had fallen by the wayside because of the overall cost of the defence acquisition programme.

Mbeki and the former Armscor chairperson and ANC KwaZulu-Natal treasurer, Diliza Mji, put together a bid for 25% of the South African company. When Mbeki's involvement became public in 2001 it was controversial, because Vickers-OMC stood to benefit directly from the arms deal because of its ownership of the South African company, Gear Ratio, which was part of a bid to supply gear boxes for the four new corvettes bought by the navy. 

The M&G revealed that a committee chaired by the department of defence's chief of procurement, Chippy Shaik, had overturned a technical preference for a competing foreign supplier because of the strategic need to support Gear Ratio. The deal was also controversial because it was part-funded by a loan to Mji by the Industrial Development Corporation while he was its chairperson. Mji applied for the loan before being appointed chairperson.

The deal with Vickers was finally signed in March 2002, giving Mbeki, Mji and another shareholder, Khapametsi Maleke, 25% of the company for just R25-million.

By that stage, the 9/11 attacks had taken place, the invasion of Afghanistan was in full swing and the invasion of Iraq was on the horizon. The South African armoured vehicle manufacturer was perfectly positioned to profit from the West's engagement in several wars against insurgents for whom mine and projectile attacks against convoys and patrol vehicles was a major tactic. 

Vickers was taken over by another British firm, Alvis plc, in August 2002 and finally by BAE Systems in 2004. Exports from what is now known as BAE Systems Land Systems South Africa have grown dramatically.

A 2007 article quoted the company as saying that since BAE Systems bought a major share in the company in 2004, Land Systems South Africa's annual turnover has quadrupled from R300-million to more than R1.2-billion in 2006. A 2009 article quoted the company as saying exports had totalled about R4.34-billion since 2003.

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