/ 19 February 2021

Conflicting witness evidence in Bongo graft case — Hlophe

Bongani Bongo has said that the allegations were a “plot” to tarnish his name and that Parliament and the Hawks are deliberately dragging their feet in concluding their respective investigations.
Former minister Bongani Bongo was accused of trying to to bribe advocate Ntuthuzelo Vanara, the evidence leader in the parliamentary inquiry into state capture at Eskom, in October 2017. (David Harrison/M&G)

Two more state witnesses took the stand in the corruption case against the former state security minister, ANC MP Bongani Bongo, in the high court in Cape Town on Friday. 

Bongani faces charges of corruption relating to allegations that he offered to bribe advocate Ntuthuzelo Vanara, the evidence leader in the parliamentary inquiry into state capture at Eskom, in October 2017. Vanara was allegedly offered a bribe “to collapse the inquiry” into mismanagement at Eskom. 

On the third day of trial, state witnesses advocate Modibedi Phindela, secretary to the National Council of Provinces, and Penelope Tyawa, acting secretary of parliament and head of administration, gave evidence. 

Phindela was approached by Vanara after the alleged phone call by Bongo “to collapse the inquiry” in 2017. After meeting Vanara, Phindela reported the matter to Tyawa as head of administration. After Vanara compiled a report Tyawa handed it over to the executive authorities of parliament for further action. 

Bongo’s legal representative, Michael Hellens, was persistent in the matter of why the witnesses did not report the incident to the police or the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (the Hawks), but instead reported it to parliament. 

Phindela and Tyawa argued that they raised it in a political forum and not as a criminal matter. They said they acted in line with legislation in parliament when they reported the incident.

Hellen argued an error in the affidavit Tyawa signed on 14 August 2018 wherein she refers to Bongo as the minister of intelligence. Hellen said Bongo was relieved from his role as minister of state security on 26 February 2018. 

The Western Cape judge president, John Hlophe, questioned why Tyawa’s evidence sheet did not correspond to her affidavit. In her affidavit of 2018 she wrote, “on 10 October 2017 Mr Vanara said honourable Bongo approached him for corruption” and “he was promised a bribe”. But in her charge sheet she does not include “he was promised a bribe”. 

She attributes it to the time lapse between the affidavit and the charge sheet.

But Hhlophe said she did not mention it during her examination, cross-examination or re-examination. He noted that Phindela said, “he was offered a bribe”, and that he did not make any reference to corruption. Hhlophe then said that Tyawa’s evidence is in conflict with Phindela’s. 

The court adjourned to resume on Monday, 22 February, when the state is expected to close its case after possibly two more witnesses give evidence. 

Outside the court Bongo was met by followers pledging their support for the ANC MP. 

Bongo was relieved from his role as a minister in 2018 after just four months in the position, when incoming President Cyril Ramaphosa chose his new cabinet members. Bongo was arrested by the Hawks in 2020 for a range of charges including fraud, corruption and theft.