South Africa

DAYS OF ZONDO: Vytjie Mentor’s crucial Zuma meeting testimony takes a knock

Official records put Duduzane Zuma and two Gupta brothers on a China-bound flight with former ANC MP, Vytjie Mentor, but a crucial meeting where former President Jacob Zuma allegedly appeared at the Guptas’ Saxonwold home, remains unconfirmed.

The State Capture Commission on Monday heard that records obtained from the Department of Home Affairs and Emirates airline indeed put Mentor on the same international flight as Duduzane Zuma, brothers Ajay and Rajesh and a yet-to-be identified “chairman” of the Gupta companies. Mentor is currently concluding her testimony before Commission chairman, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, ahead of cross-examination by various implicated parties, including a former Zuma aide, Lakela Kaunda, provisionally scheduled for Tuesday. The China trip, in August 2010, was a key part of Mentor’s testimony in August 2018 when she revealed that she had been approached on that flight by Duduzane Zuma whom she said had introduced her to two “Indian” gentlemen, one of whom she later identified as Rajesh Gupta. This encounter was allegedly followed a few weeks later by a visit to the Gupta-owned Saxonwold mansion where Mentor claimed one of the Gupta brothers had offered her a Cabinet post. This, she had testified, had agitated her to such an extent that she protested loudly until former President Zuma appeared in the house to try to calm her down. Corroboration of this meeting though is tied, in part, to a domestic trip that Mentor says she undertook in October of that year when she flew from Cape Town to Johannesburg for a meeting with Zuma. But the Commission has thus far not found verifying records to support Mentor’s claims about the trip which Mentor says took place a few weeks after her introduction to the Guptas en route to China. South African Airways does not have records to confirm Mentor’s version of having flown to Johannesburg on a Monday that October and neither does British Airways. Budget airline, Mango, the Commission heard, does not retain flight records for more than five years while SA Express seemingly did not fly the route during that time. However, Mentor insisted that she had flown to Johannesburg on a Monday in October 2010 – a trip during which she said, she was fetched from the airport and taken to the Gupta-owned Sahara Computers and later on, to the family’s Saxonwold home. She previously testified how she had become agitated and loud when one of the Gupta brothers told her they could make her the minister of public enterprises and that Zuma appeared from a part of the house to try to calm her down. The offer of a Cabinet post was allegedly in exchange for ensuring that SAA dropped its Mumbai route once former public enterprises minister Barbara Hogan was fired. Hogan was indeed sacked during a Cabinet reshuffle a few weeks later. While independent records confirmed Mentor’s China trip, the Commission’s legal team is unable to locate documents or records to support her testimony about a trip to Johannesburg that coincided with the alleged meeting at Saxonwold and, more important, that put Zuma at the scene. Parliamentary records reflect a trip for Mentor on October 15, 2010 but this was on a Friday and Mentor insists she had travelled to Johannesburg on a Monday. Mentor, in response, told the Commission that she had studied the flight records obtained by the Commission and that they contained general discrepancies between her SAA trips and records of trips held by Parliament. SAA records did not contain matching records for Mentor’s travels on 15 October, 2010 while this trip is recorded in a corresponding requisition document for Mentor’s bookings through Parliament. The Commission has asked Zuma for a version in relation to Mentor’s testimony but he has thus far not done so. The Commission’s own examination of Zuma’s diary for the period July to December 2010 would also only be a factor once corroboration for Mentor’s very specific flight to Johannesburg is obtained. In addition to issues around this domestic trip, the Commission also dented Mentor’s testimony about the presence of Atul Gupta in China as neither Home Affairs’ nor Emirates’ records supported her testimony on this front. Records suggest he was in South Africa at the time. There have been serious questions and concerns about Mentor’s recollection of the events that date back more than eight years. She earlier retracted her evidence that Duduzane had introduced her to controversial arms deal broker, Fana Hlongwane, on the flight to China. She now says this was a mistake and has apologised to Hlongwane. The Commission has obtained a copy of the flight manifest that may shed light on who the mysterious passenger was that may have been introduced to Mentor as the “chairman”. However, those records form part of a confidential bundle of documents not presented as yet. On 3 December, 2018, the Commission carried out a three-hour-long inspection at the Gupta home at number five Saxonwold Drive. This is one of several homes within the infamous compound. A structural engineer and architect from the Department of Public Works were roped in as part of an expert panel to examine or confirm various features of the property that Mentor had highlighted during her initial testimony last year. However, the Commission was told that they were unable to definitely confirm her recollection of five or six steps leading into the house where Mentor claims she had met Zuma, an interior pillar, a mural and a guest bathroom. Mentor said it was possible that there had been renovations at the property which may have resulted in some of the changes she observed during the inspection. While it is possible for such work to be forensically examined, the Commission was told it would cost in excess of R800,000. The Commission’s video footage of the inspection may be shown on Tuesday and the Guptas have requested that their own expertly shot footage of the same in loco inspection be submitted as evidence. The Guptas were previously denied the right to cross-examine Mentor but seemingly felt that their own video ought to be available to the Commission and the public as it brought the “credibility” of Mentor’s recollection of the alleged visit to Saxonwold into sharp focus. The family’s senior advocate, Mike Hellens, said this was important for the inquiry’s pursuit of the “truth” as their version would show Mentor’s reaction and behaviour. Justice Zondo has not yet made a determination on whether he would allow the introduction of their video. Provisionally though, Zondo highlighted that parties appearing before the Commission were entitled to legal representation while the status of the Guptas is different in that they have refused to travel to SA to present to the inquiry. The Guptas are not willing to travel to South Africa to attend the proceedings – they have said they do not trust law enforcement authorities – and have suffered several set-backs as result. Mentor’s testimony continues on Tuesday morning after which she is scheduled to be cross-examined by two implicated parties, Kaunda, who allegedly called her to arrange the Johannesburg meeting with Zuma, and advocate Mandla Mtolo from the Hawks. DM

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