Was Vytjie taped by a spy?

Audio clips and ‘stolen’ recordings of Thuli Madonsela’s State of Capture interviews are washing up at media houses as party factions fire salvoes in PR war.

Audio clips leaked to Noseweek of former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela interviewing former ANC MP and caucus chair Vytjie Mentor, months before the release of Madonsela’s State of Capture report, suggest there may have been a spy in the Protector’s office.

Noseweek was sent the clips in late November from an ANC member with close ties to President Jacob Zuma. Noseweek has verified the recordings.

When Noseweek asked if the ANC member had additional audio material, a second clip of a different section of the interview was quickly supplied.

Vytjie Mentor

According to the ANC member, the recordings were distributed amongst Zuma’s inner circle, apparently via a confidential ANC WhatsApp group.

The ANC member urged Noseweek to focus on the contents of the interview, evidently unaware or indifferent to the fact that the probable presence of a spy or informant during a privileged investigation was a crime.

 The ANC member refused to divulge from whom the clips were received, but reiterated that they were key to proving that Madonsela and Mentor were part of “white monopoly capital” interests – including ANC Chief Whip Jackson Mthembu and Secretary General Gwede Mantashe – who, the person alleged, were “working with foreign forces to topple the president and the ANC”.

It is not clear whether other recordings were made, as the ANC member soon clammed up.

Nevertheless, in December, the new
Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane said she had opened a case at Brooklyn Police Station in Pretoria, “requesting an investigation into the alleged leaks to establish if they amount to a breach of Section 7(2) of the Public Protector Act”.

The investigation would include the audio that Madonsela had given to television station eNCA after her term ended to prove that the president had lied when he said he wasn’t given an opportunity to respond to allegations of so-called state capture.

The investigation into the leaks came to light after Mkhwebane said that the Sunday Times had erroneously reported that she had opened a case against Thuli Madonsela for leaking the audio of her interview with the president to eNCA. “It is not true that Advocate Mkhwebane laid charges against her predecessor,” the press release stated. “The decision to open a case was informed by complaints from the Presidency and the Office of the Speaker of the National Assembly.

“In addition to these, Adv Mkhwebane received a media enquiry from Noseweek magazine, in which the publication claimed to be in possession of a recording of her predecessor’s meeting with Ms Mentor, also relating to the ‘State Capture’ investigation.

“In the past few weeks, there was another newspaper article based on what purported to be a recording of another meeting between Adv Mkhwebane’s predecessor and Economic Freedom Fighters leader, Mr Julius Malema. This meeting, too, related to the ‘State Capture’ matter.

“Adv Mkhwebane is concerned that these alleged leakages of evidence could compromise the trust the public has in her office. It is this concern that led to her opening a case.

“In order to maintain the credibility of the Public Protector, South Africa, and for the people to trust the institution, we need to safeguard whatever evidence such people, including whistle-blowers, give to us,” she said.

The Sunday Times also reported that Mentor had approached the Public Protector with concerns about the leaks. Mentor and Mkhwebane both denied this.

The two clips cover almost the last hour of a four-hour discussion held on 22 July at the Public Protector’s office in Cape Town. The first runs for 36 minutes and the second, for 19 minutes. The latter clip records the meeting almost to the end. At the start of the second audio clip a female voice can be heard whispering to someone, ‘I didn’t record that’, indicating that more than two people in the room were privy to the recording.

There are also periods where the recording is muffled, as if an object is placed over the recording device. The vibrating tone of another cell phone close-by can also be heard. Both recordings start and end prematurely.

Noseweek was told that all phones were turned off during the meeting.

Mentor’s no-nonsense manner when interviewed by the Public Protector makes for interesting, sometimes amusing, listening when, for instance, she says she “unfriended” ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe and his deputy, Jessie Duarte on Facebook.

“Gwede was once my friend. Jessie Duarte was once my friend. I blocked them. They would take issue with the things I said, but if I knew, I could stand my ground. I write what I want to write, because I deliberately chose social media as an arena and an avenue of exposing wrong-doing,” Mentor is recorded telling Madonsela.

She also said that Des van Rooyen, current Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, who was appointed Minister of Finance in December 2015 for three days after Nhlanhla Nene’s controversial sacking, “had no clue of anything”.

 Most of what Mentor told Madonsela was not noted in the latter’s State of Capture report, but much has been reported in the media before and after the interview. Mentor claims that most of what she knows is from “open source” – mainly from the investigative news site of amaBhungane. 

The State of Capture report documents Mentor’s claim that she was offered the post of Minister of Public Enterprises in 2010 at the Guptas’ Saxonwold compound while Zuma was allegedly in the adjoining room. Mentor says she refused the offer.

Mentor is heard saying in the clip: “The president surprised me because, he turned the whole situation on me. Like, he said I must not worry and he said I must calm down, like. He did not enter it, he turned me into a mad angry person, he said ‘calm down ntombazana’, like ‘it’s okay’.”

She also informs the Protector that current public enterprise minister Lynne Brown appointed Eskom board members who are close to the Guptas. “There is one main name, Salim Essa, he is a big fish with the Guptas.”

Asked why she only went public with the information recently, Mentor tells Madonsela: “Firstly, from 2013, I had to deal with my removal as Chair, which was unceremonious, which I was not even told about, so I did not want to be seen to be hitting back because of my removal.

“So I decided to allow everything to subside. But in the meantime I started reading and researching – that was my first reason, that you don’t just get removed and then you say, by the way, people will say ‘why were you quiet?’ But also, I got injured and after months in hospital, I recuperated at home for a long, long, long, long, time.

“My priority was to recuperate, but I had an intention that once I become armed with further information... once the opportunity presents itself and I have more ammunition because I was busy researching, I would go public…

“After my research, I became convinced something very, very wrong was going on, but also the incremental nature of brazen corruption and looting that is continuing by the executive and connected people and the Guptas is cause for concern that prompted me, but I decided after the Waterkloof incident that I am going to go public.”

Zuma denied knowing Mentor when she first made public allegations of state capture. She told the Public Protector the President’s denial was a “serious joke”, and blamed one of his underlings for peddling the apparent lie.

“That’s a serious joke. In fact I still defend the President. I still say he cannot have said that. It’s not possible. I think probably somebody that was over-zealous could have issued that statement on behalf of the President,” she said. 

Mentor also gave insight into alleged sexual advances Zuma made to her. “The President had wanted me to do certain things with him and for him once I served as chair of caucus and once I served as public enterprises chair, and, I resisted doing those things with and for the President and still I don’t hate him. I hate what he does but I don’t hate him as a person.”

Mentor can be heard signalling to graphics and images to clarify her version of “state capture”.

Besides Madonsela and Mentor, a woman described as the lead investigator, other investigators and some senior management were present at the recorded interview session.

Mentor can be heard telling Madonsela that she worries about who the new Public Protector might be. “We don’t know what kind of animal will be appointed,” she says.

Madonsela replied: “With or without me, [the team] will not let go. We are trying to conclude this investigation before I step down. We are not trying; we are aiming to conclude this investigation,” Madonsela told Mentor. 

When contacted by Noseweek, Mentor said she was “not surprised”, at the leak, which was “an obvious attempt to discredit the report and have it reviewed” by a court.

She told Noseweek that she requested that a meal offered to her during the interview be given as a “take-away” as she feared being poisoned.

Madonsela was contacted by Noseweek and referred all comment to the Public Protector’s office.

Protector spokesman Oupa Segalwe said it was for the lead investigator to ensure the safety of any recordingfrom an interview. He added, “there was never a requirement for phones to be switched off”.

Apart from Madonsela and Mentor, also present were the lead investigator, another investigator and the chief of staff.

Mentor said people were “in and out” of the office during her interview.

Segalwe said the external transcribing service would also have had access to the recording but would have signed a confidentiality agreement.

Madonsela’s “State of Capture” report recommended that Zuma establish a commission of inquiry led a judge nominated by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng.

In December, Zuma approached the North Gauteng High Court asking for Madonsela’s recommendations to be set aside. He said in his affidavit:  “The remedial action of the Public Protector violates Section 3 of the Ethics Act by clothing a judicial commission of inquiry with the necessary jurisdiction to investigate and report on the members of cabinet. The remedial action under review by a judicial commission of inquiry will not have the powers that a Public Protector has under the Public Protector’s Act. A commission of inquiry submits its report to the President for this consideration and possible action. This clearly shows the remedial action to be irregular and unlawful.”

Zuma said that the issue under investigation was complex and may go beyond the 30 days in which it needed to be reported on, making the remedial action “illegal and unlawful”.

He said there was no basis in law that a commission of enquiry had to be presided over by a judge selected by the chief justice. According to the Constitution, the chief justice doesn’t have this power, he said.

“The decision to make the remedial action, that is, to outsource it [to a commission of inquiry] was irrational since the only conceivable deduction to be made was that the Public Protector’s term of office was coming to an end and she was unwilling for the office to continue with the investigation outside her control.”

Keywords: Spy Tapes State Capture Public Protector Vytjie Mentor
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