Shocking taped conversation leads to Nkandla

Leaked phone recording draws spotlight on to financial and political ambitions of Zuma’s women.

For the past month the South African media and many members of parliament have been in possession of a recording of an extremely shocking telephone conversation leaked to them via WhatsApp.

None doubt that it is genuine, but all of them – bar one – have been too afraid to go public with it.

Neither of the speakers in the telephone conversation – a man and a woman – is identified by name and none of the recipients of the leaked recording, including Noseweek, has been able so far  to identify either of them conclusively. (The man is once addressed as Donga, or maybe Bonga, familiar short form for Bongani, a very common first name.)

The drift of the conversation is so scandalous that publication must seriously damage the reputation of anyone positively identified as one of the speakers.

From the conversation it can be deduced that the man is close – but subservient – to the woman, who appears to rely on his professional competence to draft a document, and on his knowledge of KZN politics and legislative structures.

The woman speaks with authority, spends time staying in the presidential compound at Nkandla, and is so closely connected to President Jacob Zuma and the KZN ANC leadership that she believes she can rely on their intervention to support her devious money-making plans.

Even while the speakers remain nameless, their recorded conversation dramatically draws renewed attention to the extraordinary protection enjoyed by Zuma’s “extended family” and their money-making schemes; as a result they are all eager to serve uBaba, while forming an ever-growing network of patronage, a parasitic monster attached to the throat of the nation.

As noteworthy: while the speakers in the recorded conversation do not identify themselves, the originator of the leak claims in an accompanying note that the woman is ANC Women’s League president and Minister of Social Development Bathabile Dlamini – Jacob Zuma’s chief apologist and promoter of his ex-wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

Nothing in the recorded conversation supports this contention. In fact,  there are indicators that appear to point to someone else as the more likely candidate. But, significant for other reasons, several recipients have thought the voice and manner of speech are similar to those of Dlamini. (As many have said it is not her voice.)

Noseweek approached the minister for comment and received the following reply from her spokesperson, Lumka Oliphant: “The recording has been in our possession for some time with different media houses wanting us to confirm the voice on the recording. The Minister has deliberately not entertained any journalist about the recording but has been waiting for someone or a media house to publish it.

“We have told every journalist who has approached us that the onus was on them and the owners of the media house to prove that indeed the voice is that of the Minister.”

A strangely undignified and provocatively evasive answer coming from a senior minister of state. We take it to be a denial.

The minister's spokesperson did, in the end, relent for a moment to offer Noseweek a hint:  “In the recording, the man whom you call Bonga names a company, maybe you can or have checked who the Directors of the Company are and whether they have done any work with the Department or Government?” 

Noseweek had, of course, but we will get to that in a moment. 

True or false, in this age of spook versus spook, the naming of Bathabile Dlamini raises questions about the timing and purpose of the leak, were it to be linked to the Minister of Social Development.

Apart from being Zuma’s chief apologist and long-time promoter, right now two issues have put Dlamini centre stage: her frighteningly brazen mismanagement of the country’s massive social grants programme, and her role as main promoter of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as candidate to succeed Jacob Zuma. [See Nkosazana's evil shadow in this issue.]

Whatever the motive for leaking it, or who exactly the speakers are, the taped conversation is undoubtedly newsworthy and deserving of publication in the public interest.

It appears that the conversation likely took place late in November 2016. A female member or close associate of the extended Zuma household is gleefully cooking up a plan to get control of all KZN school feeding schemes – so that she can divert a big chunk of the budget for those schemes into her own pockets.

In the recording she can be heard explaining how she expects President Zuma and some eminent KZN ANC leaders to facilitate her plans – and that she has to have those plans ready for presentation to the President before he leaves Nkandla on 5 December.

She explains how a company called House of Success, which Noseweek has since learnt is controlled by a woman close to the President, would profit if certain regulations were to be hurriedly changed.

In the conversation, she refers to “Zikalala” and “Willies” as needing to be consulted. Sihle Zikalala has since November 2015 been chair of the ANC in KZN. Willies Mchunu, his deputy chair last year became premier of KZN.

In a nutshell, the woman speaker says she would like to create an “association” which will be awarded government tenders to run school nutrition and feeding schemes.

She suggests legislative amendments to the Nutrition Policy as well as the introduction of regulations which will require that any “association” wishing to be awarded tenders for school nutrition schemes should be required, by regulation, to undergo a training course on hygiene – one that the House of Success will provide for a fee.

The recording begins mid-sentence:

Female voice: … and if we make it an association …

Male voice: uh huh.

Female: err … I want us that everybody who will be given [school] catering [jobs or contracts] must be … accredited. You see? Accreditation should mean they must undergo a certain training.

Male: Okay.

Female: And then, the market that I am aiming at, the focus that I’m on, Bonga my boy, is that I want all the people that have gotten a tender for …. ummm … for school feeding …

Male: Yep?

Female: … that those people be people who have undergone training.

Male: Okay.

Female: Because I want to … I want to shut it down [clinch/secure it?], neh … but that’s a secret between me and you. I just to to … to … to … close it, so that it becomes mine. It’ll be mine.

Male: Ohhh … okay.

Female: But how do we then do it? We must regulate it. The regulations that go into it must also include, that those people must have been people who were trained at least in hygiene and in this and in that.

Male: Yes. No, I think ma… [interrupted].

Female: Do you see what I mean?

Male: You know, how we could do it is that the House of Success should have an MoU [memorandum of understanding] with … I know that the Nutrition Programme of KZN right now, is being held by the Premier’s Office directly. It was formerly Education, but now it is with the Premier’s Office.

Female: Yes.

Male: Yes. So what you could then do is, you could get … [stutters] … Zikalala to speak to Willies, right?

Female: Yes.

Male: …so that we could have an existing MoU between House of Success and the Department. So then, we [interrupted].

Female: Yes.

Male: … Ja, we create an amendment to the policy … err … of the Nutrition Programme, to include issues of hygiene, to include issues of accreditation through House of Success.

Female: Yes.

Male: [concurs].

Female: So, I want to think about that money then my boy, about the money we’ll make … where will it vanish/stem from?

Male: Well, it will come through… [interrupted].

Female: …and, and, and you know that once we create this association … once they [stutters] are are are accredited what we’ll do is that we make it coincide with what we’ll create/mandate that all schools that operate through the department must have kitchens.

Male: Yes.

Female: And those kitchens are what? [rhetorical question] Mobile kitchens!

Male: Yes.

Female: We are entering it through the nutrition and hygiene.

Male: Yes, true, in fact I think that’s actually a very [inaudible, due to coughing by female] plan. Err, I think you might want to have an unofficial meeting with those people that I have mentioned earlier … err …

Female: [concurs].

Male: … to ensure that they too are on board, I think that it’s a very valuable proposition.

Female: So I want you, whilst you are on holiday, to not even sleep thinking “holidays” only, but that you try to put one or two things [in motion], because now I have this advantage of that I am not the President yet. You see?

Male: Oh, so uBaba is in it? [interrupted].

Female: I want… [cuts short to answer question]. Yes I want it [so] that I have [it on] one page, so that when I present it to him, I can say, ‘this is what we want to do’ … and I want to a,b and c. You see what I mean?

Male: Ja, I hear you. I can quickly scribble something and look through their policy, so that it’s in line with their policy. Then … [interrupted].

Female: Exactly!

Male: ... ja, then we come straight to Nkandla afterwards. Just after I’m done with the [stutters] … holidays.

Female: [stutters] You, you, you do what you have to do now if there is something specific [inaudible], then email me, because I have access to emails here. Indeed I want to have it that by the time uBaba leaves here before the 5th, that this will have been put together.

Male: No problem, Ma. I will do it for you.

Female: Okay then boy, think through it properly.

Male: Okay, thanks Ma.

Female: Alright then ‘sho’.

Male: Bye. [end of conversation].

You can listen to the original tape here.

A company search reveals that the House of Success Academy was registered on 27 October 2016 and its director is Priscilla Nonkululeko Mhlongo.

Mhlongo is a Pietermaritzburg businesswoman, who is mother of two of Jacob Zuma’s daughters. (The elder attended her father’s inauguration.)

In Feb 2010 the Mail&Guardian quoted Mike Zuma, the President’s younger brother, confirming that although Mhlongo was not married to the President, she is “well respected in the family”.

“She is our mother. She visits Msholozi’s [Zuma’s clan name] home during functions. She was there in December. I don’t understand why people make noise about this issue,” he told the M&G.

In the same week, The Mercury reported that Mhlongo had opened an upmarket restaurant in the Pietermartizburg CBD, and had a contract with the legislature, providing MPs with meals during committee meetings and sittings.

The report continued: “While there is no suggestion that Mhlongo’s relationship with the President helped secure the contract, some in the legislature were concerned that such an inference would be drawn if The Mercury published the story.”

However, just days later, Sapa reported that the R1.3m contract awarded to Mhlongo’s company Bucebo General Trading in the 2008/9 tax year to provide snacks and lunches at the provincial legislature was part of the legislature’s irregular expenditure of R19,017.025 for catering during that year.

“The legislature broke the law by awarding the catering tender to Mhlongo before the expiry of the 21-day period for review. The tender was also not advertised in the Government Gazette as required by the Treasury regulations.”

By 2015 the SABC was referring to her as “First Lady Nonkululeko Mhlongo-Zuma” when reporting a speech made at the launch of her 15-year-old daughter, Nomcebo’s Jano Zuma Foundation.

She was quoted saying: “With the foundation, Nomcebo has introduced her idea, Music On Wheels, where she wants to buy a truck and load musical instruments which will be supplied to rural poor schools.

“Like her father, President Jacob Zuma, she taught herself to play musical instruments.”

Nonkululeko Mhlongo and a certain Sizwe Zuma – variously described as a son or nephew of the President – are trustees of the Jano Zuma Foundation. Where might its funding come from? A report from News24 in July 2016 allows one to make an educated guess:

“South African Airways (SAA) chairperson Duduzile Myeni [another Zuma favourite and trustee of his personal Foundation] last year requested that the troubled airline’s chief procurement officer add the name of Sizwe Zuma to a list of potential new jet fuel suppliers. SAA’s jet fuel contracts are worth some R10bn per year.”

Sizwe Christopher Zuma is a director of a company called Sokhulu Petroleum SA. He chose not to respond to News24’s inquiries.

From Facebook we learn that The House of Success Academy is situated at 310 Prince Alfred Street, Pietermaritzburg.

A brochure they kindly provide sets out all the courses offered by House of Success. They include safety in the home, health and hygiene, nutrition, menu planning and cooking lessons.

House of Success has, since last year, been registered with the Culture, Art, Tourism, Hospitality, and Sport Sector Education and Training Authority.

Assistant KD Zondi tells Noseweek that, while they offer Skills Programme Certificate courses, they are not involved with the KZN government or the school feeding scheme.

Noseweek called Mhlongo for her comment.

Noseweek reporter: I want to speak to you about a recording doing the rounds.

Mhlongo: What recording?

Reporter: It’s a recorded conversation in which your company is referred to. It basically talks about a plot to get money from the school nutrition programme. People believe it’s you. Have you heard this audio?

Mhlongo: I cannot help you because I don’t know what you are talking about. Goodbye.

Reporter: Let me let you in on it …

Mhlongo: Goodbye, goodbye. [hangs up].

The National Freedom Party (NFP) was the first (and only) opposition party to react publicly to the recording, believing as they do that the woman speaking is the Minister of Social Development.  In a statement issued on 22 January, by party spokesperson Sabelo Sigudu, they called on President Zuma to “do an ethical thing and remove from office the minister of Social Development, Bathabile Dlamini.

“[She is] clearly heard outlining her latest defrauding strategy...

 “What is more disturbing is that she draws the name of the President … into all of this …”

The NFP called on all those mentioned in the recording to “come out and state their position in this latest saga.”

Challenged by Noseweek on his identification of the speaker, Sigudu, who is also based in Pietermaritzburg, re-iterated that he was confident that he had correctly identified her, and that he had identified the source of the leaked recording who, he said, worked “in that department”. He refused to elaborate.

Democratic Alliance Shadow Minister of Social Development, Bridget Masango, said she had listened to the recording and believed the voice could well be that of Bathabile Dlamini. Masango is also a Zulu-speaker and from the same region as the minister.

Masango commented: “These revelations of someone using her proximity and access to government resources to enrich herself, inspire unspeakable outrage.  The fact that this person can conjure up a whole scheme to “close” the entire school nutrition value chain for herself through House of Success is bad enough – that the KZN premier and ANC chairman might have agreed to change the province’s policies for that express purpose is simply beyond comprehension. 

The DA is to table questions in Parliament on the issue.

Retired educationalist Les Stanley who has worked exclusively with deep rural schools in KZN for nine years said it would be a “travesty” if such a plot existed.

“This would be greed at the expense of the poorest of the poor. The cooks at schools are often illiterate or semi-literate family members who are earning an honest buck. They cook on three-legged pots in the open. If they suddenly needed to be accredited they would be unemployed,” he told Noseweek.

Listen to the tape here.

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