Well over a year ago, the man who was once at the centre of a raging legal battle between Mathews Phosa and David Mabuza presented himself at the Hawks’ offices in Pretoria and was promptly put into witness protection.
Since then, it’s not clear how much taxpayer money has been spent on keeping Jan Venter “safe” from the powerful man he now believes may want to kill him.
But why would the deputy president of South Africa, formerly the premier of Mpumalanga, David Mabuza, want to “assassinate” Venter, who served a few years ago as a butler to former premier of Mpumalanga and one-time ANC treasurer-general Mathews Phosa?
According to Venter, it’s because, among other things, Mabuza once “let slip” to him that he was behind the political killings of “Jimmy and James”. Venter believes this was a reference to the late Jimmy Mohlala, speaker of the Mbombela municipality who was killed in 2009 after blowing the whistle on tender corruption surrounding a World Cup stadium, and ANC Youth League firebrand James Nkambule, who was allegedly poisoned for claims about politicians being behind several murders in Mpumalanga.
Mabuza has long been plagued by allegations about such murders, with little in the way of actual proof. Venter, for his part, can only claim that Mabuza mentioned the two deaths to him while allegedly trying to intimidate him into lying on the witness stand.
But Venter has no recording of Mabuza allegedly telling him “what happened to Jimmy and James can happen to you”, and he will have to be taken at his word.
Venter’s other allegations include that Mabuza paid him to lie in court testimony to say that he overheard Phosa discussing the creation of an intelligence report about how Mabuza once worked as a spy for the apartheid police.
Phosa claims a mysterious four-page “spy report” was dropped one day at his house and he forwarded it to the ANC’s top six officials for them to examine and discuss.
Mabuza claimed Phosa had written the report to discredit him. He sued Phosa in a R10 million defamation case, which he lost, with Venter’s testimony proving more liability than help.
The butler had switched sides twice during the trial.
He now claims that what really happened was that he decided to lie for Mabuza after Phosa pressed charges against him for having allegedly stolen from him while he was Phosa’s butler. When Mabuza offered to help Venter in that case – if Venter helped Mabuza with his defamation case against Phosa – Venter supposedly agreed.
But when Phosa then dropped his case against Venter, Venter switched allegiances and claimed Mabuza had paid him to lie.
Later, he switched sides yet again, back to Mabuza, at which point the judge presumably had enough of Venter, and of Mabuza’s lawsuit.
Now Venter is once again on Phosa’s side, and claims Mabuza is out to silence and even kill him.
Towards the end of July this year, Venter sent out several mass emails to media houses and even political parties, begging to have his story told and asking for support. The Citizen then confirmed that he had been in witness protection for about 15 months, but he has now been ejected from the programme. He is demanding to be readmitted.
He now wants money to fund the venue hire for his press conference at the start of September.
When The Citizen initially contacted Venter for clarity on his situation, he showed us an email from a Hawks investigator, Colonel Herby Heap, who was investigating several of the allegations Venter has made against Mabuza.
However, forensic consultant Paul O’Sullivan, who has been close to the matter from around when Venter was admitted to witness protection, and first revealed it last year, has now lost patience with both the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and the Hawks, after initially trying to ensure the authorities were given space to do their work.
In email correspondence shared with The Citizen, he demands to know from them why “over a year has gone by and the investigation has not even started”.
“The questions [Colonel Heap] now asks of a witness [Venter] are questions that should have been finalised a year ago.
“I’m assuming that Herby Heap has only been assigned this case two weeks ago. Then I am wondering what happened to the case for the year and three months before that?”
O’Sullivan has questioned the motivation behind Venter’s stay in witness protection and how it may have amounted to fruitless and wasteful expenditure.
He warned: “I will now have to consider a call for a judicial review of the conduct of the DPCI [the Hawks] and NPA in the last year and three months on this matter.”
In an interview last week, Venter was asked why he’d been kept in witness protection for as long as he was. He claimed to be highly frustrated, and wanted to see action with his case. He claimed he had enough physical evidence to prove that Mabuza paid him (with cash, cars, a job and more) to perjure himself on the witness stand, and that Mabuza tried to cover up the payments, which, if true, would amount to, at the very least, corruption/bribery and money laundering.
“I’ve thought about it a lot,” Venter said, “and there are two possibilities.
“One, it’s Mabuza keeping me here, out of sight, to keep me quiet. They’ve threatened to kick me out of witness protection five times already, but it never happens. Why?
“Two, it could be Cyril [Ramaphosa] who’s keeping me here – maybe as leverage against Mabuza, or to get rid of Mabuza when he needs to.”
Other possibilities existed, including that neither the NPA nor the Hawks themselves actually knew what they were doing or planning to do with Venter, which O’Sullivan’s allegations suggested may have be the case.
O’Sullivan nevertheless believed Venter’s claimed evidence deserved the utmost scrutiny, and should still be put to the test by the justice system, all the more so because they target such a powerful man.
He told The Citizen on Thursday that, in his view: “It is time the country knew how Mabuza is being protected by a captured criminal justice system.
“Jan Venter has gone stir-crazy, having been in confinement for 15 months, and the questions being put to him now [by the Hawks], by email, should have been covered in a confidential interview 15 months ago.
“The DPCI/NPA is just no longer fit for purpose and needs to be properly shaken up,” he said.
Numerous, comprehensive questions about this case were sent to the NPA, the Hawks and the deputy president, through the presidency, a week ago.
Colonel Heap referred questions to Hawks spokesperson Brigadier Hangwani Muluadzi, who acknowledged receipt.
No one, however, responded.
Last year, Mabuza’s spokesperson Thamsanqa Ngwenya, in responding to news that Venter wanted a protection order against Mabuza, told City Press that Venter was engaging in “another futile attempt” to blacken the deputy president’s name.
“Once again, as happened before, this person has proven himself to be an opportunist seeking attention with no regard for the truth,” said Ngwenya.
This story was updated on August 16 to reflect the fact of Venter’s removal from witness protection.