Mabuyakhulu accuses ANC bosses of political interference

KZN ANC deputy chairman claims foul play in R27m development scandal.

If claiming insanity is deemed the legal defence of last resort, claiming political interference probably comes a close second. The deputy chairman of the ANC in KwaZulu- Natal, Mike Mabuyakhulu, who is facing a litany of criminal charges for his role in the looting of R27 million from state coffers, now wants the world to believe he is being politically persecuted in order to keep him out of office.

Mike Mabuyakhulu

But if Mabuyakhulu’s conspiracy theory is proved true, it is his own provincial boss Sihle Zikalala who is driving in the dagger – such is the level of intrigue in KZN ANC politics where the shadow of former president Jacob Zuma still looms large.

Mabuyakhulu made his startling political-agenda claim in a 21-page affidavit filed with the Durban Commercial Crime Court where he faces charges for his role in the looting of R27m from the Department of Economic Development and Tourism in 2012 while he was the political head of the department.

He wants the case against him struck from the roll in terms of Section 342a (1) of the Criminal Procedures Act, citing unnecessary delays.

Mabuyakhulu was arrested and released on bail in February 2018. The matter was then postponed and in March 2019 a new, updated indictment was filed in the court.

It is Mabuyakhulu’s contention that he was charged on 7 February 2018 in an effort to keep him out of office while the ANC was undergoing the “significant political maneuvering” that ultimately saw Jacob Zuma removed as state president and replaced by his deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, on 15 February 2018.

Sihle Zikalala

What Mabuyakhulu does not say – although it is widely known in political circles – is that he had backed Ramaphosa, while the chairperson of the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal, Sihle Zikhalala, was and is still a staunch supporter of Zuma.

Zuma, who snubbed the opening of national Parliament, was treated as royalty alongside King Goodwill Zwelithini at the opening of the KwaZulu-Natal Legislature a week later.

That the ANC in KZN is deeply divided is no secret. They had to re-run their elective conference in July 2018 after their 2015 provincial elective conference, won by Zikalala and his Zuma faction, was declared null and void by the High Court in Pietermaritzburg in December 2017. At the re-run, a compromise Provincial Executive Committee was elected – weighted fairly evenly with voices from both factions culminating in Mabuyakhulu being made deputy chairperson.

“The decision to place me before Court on 7 February 2018 was at a crucial stage during the political maneuvering and, while I do not have actual evidence that it played a role, I do question the timing,” Mabuyakhulu told the court.

He also believes justice should be swifter for him because he has ambitions for higher office. Working as a “construction consultant” (read: lobbyist), is “by no means my chosen career and does not compare with a position in public office”.

In his papers he has also claimed the criminal case against him has been dragging on for far too long, claiming the delay is “unreasonable and is causing me substantial prejudice”.

The reality is the case is moving along reasonably swiftly considering there are 16 accused – seven of them companies – in a complex matter involving organised crime.

While he makes no attempt to dispute the case against him he makes it known that he cannot understand how a matter that was first investigated in August 2013 was only completed by February 2018.

“I verily believe that this matter was not continuously investigated and lay dormant for considerable periods. The timing of the decision to prosecute me is relevant in that it coincided with significant political changes in the leadership of the country.”

[There are a couple of ways of interpreting that statement! –Ed.]

NEC member Senzo Mchunu, President Cyril Ramaphosa

It is likely that his political cover dried up when he went against the Zuma tide in Zuma country.

To recap, the accused face 64 charges including corruption, fraud, theft and money-laundering for their alleged role in looting from the state under the false premise that the Netherlandsbased North Sea Jazz Festival would be hosted in Durban. The event never happened (nose221).

In January 2012 a formal pitch was made by a South African-based company called MPM Productions and International Projects (Pty) Ltd to bring the festival to Durban. By April 2012, Mabuyakhulu had given it the green light and by June 2012 agreements were signed between MPM and local firm Soft Skills Communication 100 CC, owned by Walter Mkhize. This agreement, according to the indictment, is illegal as MPM was instructed to use Soft Skills or lose the contract. It was Mabuyakhulu’s then head of department Desmond Golding who gave this ultimatum.

On 21 June 2012, a day after the crooked deal was set up, Soft Skills immediately embarked on the extraction programme, invoicing the department for its first tranche of R969,000.

On 4 July 2012, then KZN Treasury MEC Ina Cronje was sent to the Netherlands to visit the festival to make a final decision on the viability of staging the event. But while she was out of town a further R969,000 was hurriedly paid to Soft Skills.

By October 2012 the Rotterdam festival owners – no doubt having received worrying reports from MPM – eventually pulled the plug on franchising its brand to Durban.

Golding was informed but this made little difference and by 26 November 2012 he ordered his general manager, Babalwa Mapisa, to pay R26,886,900 to Soft Skills on the presumption that the festival was still on.

Within days Soft Skills started transferring large tranches to various accused including Jacob Zuma backer Mabheleni Ntuli who got R2,204,000. R300,000 went into the personal bank account of Mabuyakhulu, using the reference “Ndiyema”, the Mabuyakhulu clan name.

Mabuyakhulu faces three charges including contravention of the Prevention and Combating Corrupt Activities Act and the Criminal Procedures Act, linked to how he got R300,000.

On 7 March he officially recused himself from all public positions until this matter is resolved. A decision on his application is expected in April.

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