/ 4 March 2022

Zondo’s findings on Mantashe could cost the president an ally

Minister Mantashe Releases The 2019 Mine Health And Safety Stati
In his third report, Acting Chief Justice Raymond Zondo links Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe and former president Jacob Zuma to a corrupt relationship with Bosasa, which should now activate the ANC’s step-aside resolution. Photo: Phill Magakoe/AFP

Volume three of the Zondo report has hit uncomfortably close to President Cyril Ramaphosa, even without any firm finding on his own testimony to the inquiry on state capture.

Instead, he has the headache of Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo ordering corruption investigations against his wayward mineral resources and energy minister Gwede Mantashe, an ally he cannot lose in his uphill battle to hold onto control of the ruling ANC at its elective conference in December, but who now clearly compromises his renewal drive.

“It means that the step-aside rule has to apply, and this positions Ramaphosa in a tough situation,” political analyst Ralph Mathekga said.

“He will now have to push out someone who has become a crucial ally. This is not good for Ramaphosa, who faces an elective conference.”

At the ANC’s policy conference in 2017, the ruling party resolved that those members facing criminal charges must voluntarily step aside from their positions pending finalisation of their cases.

The recommendation by Zondo that Mantashe face investigation for possible breach of section 24 of the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities (Precca) Act will, at the current rate of progress of such probes, take time. So too will the inevitable debate as to when exactly the step-aside rule should be activated. Mantashe promptly said he would take the findings on review.

But Ramaphosa’s opponents in the Radical Economic Transformation faction would be hard-pressed to resist demanding that it cost Mantashe his job as it did their figurehead, the suspended ANC secretary general Ace Magashule, who faces charges under the same Act for his alleged role in the Free State asbestos scandal.

Secondary, but still not negligible, is the impact of Zondo ordering that Jacob Zuma face corruption charges for taking bribes to advance the interest of the corrupt government services supplier Bosasa, along with his confidante, the former SAA chair Dudu Myeni. The former president has, predictably, responded with a furious threat to challenge the report and complaint that he was not heard.

This is of course, as the report points out yet again, because Zuma refused to testify, leading to his jailing for contempt of court.

The bother for Ramaphosa lies not in his lawyers launching proceedings, but in the reminder of the unrest that followed Zuma’s arrest in July and the fact that deference to him and disrespect to the courts is part of the strategy of those preparing to challenge for the ANC presidency.

Care was taken in drafting the recommendations in the nearly a thousand pages handed to Ramaphosa on Tuesday to locate the findings within the terms of reference of the commission.

Angelo Agrizzi in the commission of inquiry into state capture, former boss of Bosasa Photo Delwyn Verasamy

It noted that Mantashe had disputed that the evidence against him was relevant to the inquiry as he was not a member of the state’s executive but the secretary general of the ANC at the time Bosasa installed security systems at his homes in Elliot, Cala and Boksburg.

He also disputed that he was in a position to influence anybody within the executive.

The commission disagreed on both counts. It said it could not turn a blind eye to attempts to influence members of the executive through the actions of a third party. Nor could it disregard such attempts because there was no evidence it succeeded or because those meant to be influenced were not identified.

“Accordingly the terms of reference do not preclude a consideration of the evidence pertaining to Mr Mantashe,” Zondo concluded, before describing his testimony as less than credible on several counts.

It was common cause that the security installations happened, that Mantashe did not pay a cent and that providing such services to powerful people was part of the corrupt modus operandi of Bosasa.

Further evidence that stands, Zondo said, was that Mantashe was viewed by the leadership of the company as “a brilliant connection” and understandably so because he was in the period under review not only secretary general of the ANC but a member of the national executive committee, with whom the president consulted on key appointments, including potentially those of ministers.

Zondo dismissed Mantashe’s quaint description of the installations as being an arrangement of a traditional, familial nature, involving a friend, Papa Leshabane, as not convincing.

It was undermined “by the scale of the generosity”, his eventual knowledge that other parties were involved, and his failure to make any contribution to the cost, as one may have expected among family members. 

“If it was a project based on a traditional sharing of costs one would have expected him at least to make a contribution commensurate with his means.”

His contention that the fact that his friend worked for Bosasa was immaterial was “not an adequate response” when he knew that Bosasa had been involved in bribery in relation to catering contracts at mine hostels.

Nor was Mantashe’s failure to recall whether he owned a red Toyota Land Cruiser credible as it was the kind of thing “any person would remember”. Under these circumstances, Zondo said there was a reasonable suspicion that Mantashe knew he was expected to exert influence in Bosasa’s favour, though no proof he acted on it. 

Section 24(1) of Precca creates the presumption that a gratification was received in order to achieve a quid pro quo, or a corrupt aim, if it came from somebody who sought to obtain a contract. Zondo found that it could be applied to Mantashe to justify an investigation or prosecution. The same applied, he said, to Mantashe’s acceptance of Bosasa’s largesse in setting up an election-time “war room” for the ruling party.

Zondo found that availing the ANC of the facilities constituted a form of inducement by Bosasa and welcomed Ramaphosa’s testimony accepting that this constituted “a major lapse”. If the president claimed not to have known, the report concluded that the treasurer-general of the party and others involved in its campaign did.

The report also recommends criminal investigations be pursued against former water and environmental affairs minister Nomvula Mokonyane for accepting an obscenity of funding, food and drink from Bosasa and current deputy defence minister Thabang Makwetla for taking five years to realise accepting security installations from the same quarters was wrong. 

The evidence against Makwetla points to a prima facie case of corruption in terms of sections 3 and 4 of Precca.

“The matter is accordingly referred to the relevant authorities and, if the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) so decides, prosecution,” Zondo wrote.

But Zuma was by far the most senior official to have taken gifts in abundance from the company that paid out some R75-million in cash bribes, according to the testimony of former chief operating officer Angelo Agrizzi. The report casts his confidante and former SAA chairperson Dudu Myeni as a conduit through which much of this happened.

Troublingly, it concludes bribes were paid to stonewall the NPA’s prosecution of Bosasa, which flowed from findings by the Special Investigating Unit that there was a “corrupt relationship” between the company and department of correctional services. 

The NPA investigation was delayed for almost a decade. On Agrizzi’s version, Bosasa chief executive Gavin Watson informed him that senior prosecutors Nomgcobo Jiba and Lawrence Mrwebi were paid off to leak the inside track on the probe.

He added that he was shown the docket by Myeni in the Sheraton Hotel in Pretoria. The commission’s investigators found that photographs Agrizzi furtively took of the docket showed a carpet that matched that in the hotel, and the metadata points to the same location.

Watson is said to have handed Zuma R300 000 in cash at a meeting where he asked him to halt the Hawks’ investigation into Bosasa. Usually this sum was given to Myeni monthly to transfer to the president’s eponymous foundation. 

Myeni’s evidence at the commission has become best known for her refusal to answer most questions but she did concede that she facilitated a meeting at Nkandla with Watson, Zuma and Philip O’Quigley from the Falcon Oil and Gas group to discuss relaxing regulations in the industry with a view to fracking in the Karoo.

Zondo concludes that if parts of the evidence were hearsay, it was admissible and in light of Zuma’s refusal to testify, it was the only version before it. However with regard to Bosasa’s lavish spending on his birthday parties, there was “clear and convincing, non-hearsay evidence”.

The commission found no evidence that Zuma directly facilitated Bosasa’s tenders with the state. 

“However, it is clear on a conspectus of the evidence that it was central for Bosasa’s ability to maintain its lucrative contracts and its continued ability to secure tender awards in its favour, that the criminal investigations against Bosasa should be brought to a halt.”

The probability that Zuma was involved was enhanced by the fact that Myeni shared information relating to the investigation with the company, and this was an offence in terms of section 4 of the Precca Act.

“What can also not be ignored is that there was a concrete result,” Zondo said.

It means that Zuma placed himself in a direct conflict of interest and breached the law, the Constitution and the executive ethics code, and that it was likely that a prima facie case of corruption could be established. He has dismissed the report as not worth the paper on which it was printed.