Daniel Friedman
6 minute read
27 Aug 2018
5:19 pm

Confused Mentor confirms allegations to judge Zondo. Or is that Zondi?

Daniel Friedman

In her testimony before the Zondo commission, the former ANC MP's testimony often centred on confusion around who is who in the state capture zoo.

Ajay and Atul Gupta. File photo

Former ANC MP Vytjie Mentor took to the stand at the commission of inquiry into state capture on Monday, confirming many of the accusations she had made in the past about the Guptas and state capture.

At the inquiry, it was mentioned that one of Mentor’s allegations – that Lakela Kaunda had called her in 2010 to arrange a meeting with then-president Jacob Zuma –  prompted Kaunda’s legal team to apply for leave to cross-examine Mentor.

Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, in response, said that if any of those implicated wished to cross-examine witnesses, they themselves needed to submit to being cross-examined. These would include Zuma, his son Duduzane, the Gupas themselves and Kaunda.

“They need to put up their version … We must know what their version is,” Zondo said.

Zondo has attempted to get Zuma to testify at the inquiry before, only to be told that his legal team is still deciding if and how the former president will participate.

In her testimony, Mentor detailed a meeting at the Guptas’ compound in Saxonwold, in September 2010, in which she was treated to mutton curry and chai tea and allegedly told that she could be the minister of public enterprises in return for cancelling SAA’s route between Johannesburg and Mumbai.

The alleged offer of a ministerial position in return for the route cancellation first came to light in March 2016. Mentor alleged that a partnership between the Guptas and Jet Airlines was the reason behind them wanting to remove any competition on the route.

Mentor also alleges that Ajay Gupta told her the family would be the government’s “main supplier” of uranium if the nuclear deal went through. She added that he had harsh words for the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor, which she was involved with as chairperson of parliament’s committee on public enterprises.

According to Mentor, Gupta slammed both the reactor and SAA for “burning money” before making the offer of the ministerial position, saying this would be accomplished through a reshuffle in which she would replace then minister Barbara Hogan.

She mentioned being surprised that the Guptas had brought up a reshuffle as, “at the time, there was no speculation of a reshuffle”.

READ MORE: Vytjie Mentor can’t tell Hlongwane and Hlongwa apart in testimony

She further claimed that they said they would “put a word in” for her with the president, adding that this was something they did often.

She also alleged that, on another occasion, after the Guptas fetched her at the airport to take her to an early-morning meeting scheduled with Zuma, they took her to their Sahara Computers offices.

According to Mentor, she was offered a cricket bat and an invitation to the box at Newlands cricket stadium after telling Ajay Gupta her son was a cricket enthusiast. She said she turned down both offers.

Mentor also raised eyebrows while giving testimony when Justice Zondo indicated that a photograph she had submitted as evidence regarding the Sahara meeting had not been taken by Mentor herself. She said she believed it was taken by the media.

Earlier, Mentor had mentioned being “concerned for her safety” when she was called to meet with Zuma while on a trip to China.

“I cannot go and hand myself to a man that’s got a reputation with women, on a silver platter, driven by strange people…” Mentor testified to thinking at the time.

She testified that a Gupta brother – she was not entirely sure which one – called her at her hotel and said that Zuma had asked her to meet him at the Chinese state guest house before he left for a banquet.

She said she refused to go, after which the Gupta brother phoned Zuma before calling her back, saying the president had “insisted” she should go. She said she then refused again before putting the phone down and leaving it off the hook so she could not be called again.

Mentor said she eventually did meet with Zuma back in South Africa but said she was not clear on the exact date.

READ MORE: Zuma’s ‘reputation with women’ made Mentor afraid of him

She said she had been trying to meet with him over her concerns for South Africa’s power situation and had wanted to discuss the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor.

Much of her testimony was also spent in attempts to clear up confusion over businessman Fana Hlongwane and ANC politician Brian Hlongwa and in explaining her difficulty in telling the Guptas apart.

While she maintained the man with Zuma at a meeting she attended was businessman Hlongwane, it was pointed out she had previously named Hlongwa in a book she wrote.

She also detailed a meeting with Zuma and two people she could only identify as being “Indian looking”.

She continued to testify that Zuma asked her if he could introduce her to “his chairman”, whom she identified as Hlongwane.

But inquiry chair Zondo questioned why in Mentor’s book No Holy Cows she had mentioned Hlongwa rather than Hlongwane.

Mentor answered that this was a mistake she could not explain except to say that both the businessman and ANC politician had been in the media and that she had mixed up the surnames, mistakenly believing that Hlongwane’s name was Brian and Hlongwa’s Fana.

Her confusion over the two led Justice Zondo to warn Mentor not to call him Zondi, a comment that led to much laughter from those in attendance.

Mentor made no promises, responding, “I might.”

She was also questioned on why, in her interview with then public protector Thuli Madonsela, Mentor didn’t mention Hlongwane or Hlongwa.

Elsewhere in her testimony, Mentor said she met one of the Gupta brothers on a flight with Duduzane Zuma, and that while she initially could not tell which brother it was, she later learnt it was Rajesh.

She said she was able to later tell the brothers apart by their “level of obesity”.

“Ajay and Atul are two confusing Indian names,” she told the commission.

She later delved into the complicated method she ended up employing to tell Atul and Ajay Gupta apart.

“I had to learn their names by eventually creating a formula for myself in my mind, that says ‘There is Atul and there is Ajay’. I know them in my mind, I can point them out, I can separate them, I know them and their physiques and their faces, but who is who in terms of the names,” Mentor said.

“I used the issue of who is elder and who is younger, and I had to drill it into my mind to say that, in the alphabet, J comes before T, and therefore Ajay is the elder brother, and Atul is the younger brother.”

Mentor does not seem to be alone in her trouble distinguishing between the Guptas.

Last week, former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas admitted he could not be sure if the man present when he was allegedly offered R600 million to take over from Nhlanhla Nene as finance minister was Ajay or Rajesh Gupta.

While Jonas testified that a Gupta brother had made the offer and threatened his life if he went public with it after he refused, he was not completely sure which Gupta brother it was.

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