Zondo commission: Mentor corroboration remains elusive

NEWS ANALYSIS

The Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture has hit yet another snag in its efforts to verify the testimony of former ANC MP, Vytjie Mentor.

On Tuesday, the commission — chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo — heard briefly from mining magnate Daphne Mashile-Nkosi, a long-time friend of Mentor. But Mashile-Nkosi was not able to confirm testimony that places Mentor in Johannesburg at the time of an alleged meeting at the Gupta family’s Saxonwold compound.

Mentor testified before the commission in August last year and was the first witness to be cross-examined when she appeared before the commission again in February this year.

Her main allegation is that Gupta patriarch, Ajay, offered her the job of public enterprises minister at a clandestine meeting at his family’s Saxonwold home sometime in 2010. Mentor further alleged that then president Jacob Zuma was at the home, and attempted to calm her down after she rejected the offer.

Mentor told the commission that throughout her trip to Johannesburg, which she alleges was co-ordinated by Zuma’s presidential aide Lakela Kaunda, she was in contact with Mashile-Nkosi. She allegedly called Mashile-Nkosi four times during the course of her protracted encounter with the Guptas.

According to Mentor, Mashile-Nkosi offered to let her stay at her Johannesburg home if she missed her flight back to Cape Town.

On Tuesday, Mashile-Nkosi was not able to recall the alleged phone calls between herself and Mentor at the time of the 2010 meeting. “I would never recall a specific conversation because, you know, I would discuss with her everything and anything,” she said.

Mashile-Nkosi said that during the course of her 30-year friendship with Mentor the two had spoken on the phone on innumerable occasions.

Despite not remembering the phone calls, Mashile-Nkosi would not deny that they did occur. “I would not have an issue with that. She would call me from time to time,” she said.

“I think I know Vytjie more than a lot of people … and I have no reason to doubt it when she says that she did call me,” Mashile-Nkosi added.

Mashile-Nkosi further confirmed that Mentor would often stay at her home on visits to Johannesburg. “I consider her more than a friend. She is more of a younger sister to me,” she said of her relationship with Mentor.

Mentor’s evidence relating to the 2010 meeting has proven difficult to corroborate.

Her trip from Cape Town to Johannesburg was disputed by SAA travel records which could not account for it at the time of the alleged Saxonwold meeting. Mentor claimed that she travelled to Johannesburg on SAA on a Monday sometime in September or October 2010.

Mentor said she had had “no joy” with SAA’s records, noting discrepancies between them and Parliament’s record of her travels. The SAA records do not bear Mentor’s name and are not printed on any official letterhead.

An October 15 2010 trip between Cape Town and Johannesburg was reflected in Parliament’s records. But Mentor would not concede that this was the flight she took on the day of the Saxonwold meeting. October 15 would have been a Friday but Mentor was insistent in her testimony, saying she had travelled on a Monday.

Zondo emphasised the importance of pinning down the facts of the trip because failing to establish that it actually took place would compromise Mentor’s credibility.

“It is quite an important part, because before one can talk about whether there was a meeting or not, one has got to know how you got to the meeting,” Zondo said.

The commission could also not corroborate Mentor’s recollection of the Saxonwold compound. In December last year, the commission conducted an on-site inspection of the compound. But experts from the department of public works were unable to confirm definitely that the compound had the features Mentor detailed in August.

In response, Mentor suggested that the compound had undergone renovations in the nine years since she visited it.

Though Mashile-Nkosi’s did not cast doubt on her friend’s reliability as a witness, her testimony on Tuesday does represent another setback in the commission’s efforts to pin down the facts of Mentor’s allegations.

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Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian. She covers topics relating to labour, corruption and the law.
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