Former ANC MP Vytjie Mentor told the judicial commission of inquiry into state capture that, while on a 2010 state trip to China, she was too scared to meet with then president Jacob Zuma because of his “reputation with women”.
On Monday, at the state capture inquiry — headed by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo — Mentor was asked to detail how in 2010 the politically connected Gupta family allegedly offered her the position of public enterprises minister in exchange for cancelling the South African Airways (SAA) route to India.
The cancellation of this route was allegedly set to benefit India-based Jet Airways and Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways.
Mentor also recounted the foiled meeting with the president in China prior to the Saxonwold meeting. Zuma had sent a Gupta brother to fetch her from her hotel while she was on the state visit. Mentor’s testimony was led by Advocate Mahlape Sello.
Mentor was appointed as chairperson of the public enterprise committee in May 2009 after she was replaced as chairperson of the ANC caucus. However, she was fired from the position following an investigation regarding a payment of R155 000 Transnet made for Mentor to accompany Zuma on the trip to China.
Mentor first revealed the alleged Gupta bribe in a Facebook post in March 2016.
She wrote: “But they had previously asked me to become Minister of Public Enterprises when Barbara Hogan got the chop, provided that I would drop the SAA flight-route to India and give to them. I refused and so I was never made a Minister. The President was in another room when they offered me this in Saxonworld. [sic]”
Her post was in response to another Facebook post by Democratic Alliance member and former Congress of the People spokesperson, Johann Abrie, who had published a cartoon of the presidential seal bearing the face of one of the Gupta brothers.
At the time she was allegedly offered the position, Barbara Hogan was the minister of public enterprises. Hogan was sacked that year. The Guptas have denied Mentor’s claims.
Mentor has also said that Zuma was at the Gupta compound when the alleged bribe attempt was made, though at the time Zuma denied having any recollection of Mentor or the events which she alleges occurred.
Mentor was one of the people interviewed by former public protector Thuli Madonsela in her investigation into state capture.
In the report, Madonsela said Mentor told her that Zuma did not appear angry that she had declined the offer. “He apparently said to her in Zulu, something like, ‘It’s okay Ntombazane [girl]… take care of yourself’,” the report says.
Mentor’s testimony on Monday first recounted her political career, which she said has been characterised by her willingness to break rank in order to expose wrongdoing. She said she saw it as her duty to hold members of the national executive to account.
Her testimony then went on to detail the controversial 2010 trip to China and the subsequent offer, which she alleges was made to her by the Guptas.
At the time, she and the portfolio committee of public enterprises were in talks with various state-owned entities, including Transnet, regarding the electricity crisis in the country.
While on her flight to China, via Dubai, Duduzane Zuma visited her at her cubicle alongside controversial businessman Fana Hlongwane — who Mentor said she misidentified as Brian Hlongwa in her book.
She also met a man whom she identifies as Rajesh Gupta, who told her that his brother was already in China as part of the advance team, Mentor said.
Mentor told the commission that, at the conference in China, she realised that the three Gupta brothers conducted themselves with a certain degree of clout and that Minister Rob Davies — who was giving the opening address — was deferring to one of the Gupta brothers.
Throughout her testimony Mentor admitted that she had difficulty distinguishing between Atul and Ajay Gupta.
Mentor said that at the meeting she felt that the ministers attending the conference had been cold to her, a fact which caused her to retreat to her hotel room and not attend the state banquet.
In her room, she had a shower and ordered room service. Suddenly she received a phone call from reception. The receptionist told her that two Indian men were looking for her, Mentor recounted.
On the phone, one of the men — who identified himself as a Gupta — said he had been sent by then president Jacob Zuma to fetch her. Mentor said that when she refused to accompany the men, the man on the phone became aggressive.
She said the man had told her that Zuma was insisting that she go with them.
Mentor said she was concerned that a man she had never met before was now saying that the president had asked to see her and that she was being asked to comply with this instruction. He said he was the leader of the advance team.
Mentor said she had tried on numerous occasions to meet with Zuma in South Africa and that she thought it was odd that he would want to meet with her in a foreign country. She also raised the fact that she was wary of Zuma’s reputation with women.
“I was very unnerved. I was frightened … I as a woman was not going to go see Zuma who had then a reputation with women,” Mentor told the commission.
Last year, Mentor said Zuma had made inappropriate sexual advances towards her while he was deputy president.
She said she rejected him twice, once while she was a younger ANC member in the early 1990s, and when she was the chairperson of the ANC caucus in the mid-2000s. “Zuma tried his luck with me on two occasions. I dealt with him and continued with my work. But he continued to prey on women,” she told the Cape Town Press Club.
Mentor told the commission that when she did eventually meet Zuma “sometime between mid-September and October”, she apologised for not meeting with him in China.