The government is using an alleged robbery attempt near a boutique hotel in Houghton, Johannesburg, to justify providing taxpayer-funded protection for presidential hopeful Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
Police Minister Fikile Mbalula confirmed the incident, but would not say whether that was the reason the state is providing presidential bodyguards to Dlamini-Zuma.
Yet neither the manager of the 10 2nd Avenue hotel nor a security guard on the premises knows anything about the incident. This is despite the fact that there were said to be as many as six armed assailants involved.
This will add fuel to critics’ claims that Dlamini-Zuma is being given preferential treatment in the run-up to the ANC’s elective conference in December. She is tipped to contest the ANC presidency against Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and has the support of her former husband, President Jacob Zuma.
As head of the AU Commission, Dlamini-Zuma was entitled to a security detail equivalent to that of a president. But that was supposed to have expired on March 31, as she has vacated the position. Dlamini-Zuma no longer qualifies for any state-funded protection.
It is standard practice for the SAPS to provide security to politicians if an assessment establishes their lives are under threat. Such security is never provided by the Presidential Protection Unit, which provides security only to the president, his deputy, former presidents and former deputies.
There was a public outcry when Dlamini-Zuma arrived at an ANC event in Sasolburg on Thursday escorted by the Presidential Protection Unit.
Police spokeswoman Sally de Beer said in a statement on Friday the allocation of such protection to Dlamini-Zuma was informed by a threat and security assessment.
She did not elaborate, but the Sunday Times has established that the SAPS is relying on the bizarre alleged robbery attempt, which supposedly targeted a former ANC MP, Thaba Mufamadi.
Police insiders said the apparent attack was the reason she needed to be “protected by the state”.
Mbalula said he had visited the crime scene. He declined to discuss details of the incident.
The Sunday Times can also reveal that Dlamini-Zuma arrived at the hotel with Presidential Protection Unit personnel already in tow on the day of the alleged attack.
There are several conflicting versions of the incident:
Mufamadi told the Sunday Times he was on his way to meet with Dlamini-Zuma at around 7.30pm last Wednesday at the secure 10 2nd Avenue hotel when he was attacked.
“Because this car was tinted and I was sitting in the back, those who were trying to make an ambush on me thought it was someone very important. I don’t want to think it is an ordinary crime, it was not innocent. It is quite a serious matter,” he said.
He said his driver quickly entered the hotel premises and the armed men ran away. Mufamadi said the armed men were wearing balaclavas but no shot was fired.
“The driver very bravely drove through the open gate ... he reported the matter to the police.”
Another politician, who is privy to information related to the incident but asked not to be named, claimed Mufamadi was held hostage: “It was an attempt by six heavily armed men and their intention was clearly not robbery but something else and then one of the victims in that attack was Thaba Mufamadi whom they took hostage and then they couldn’t reach Nkosazana because they were disturbed and then they sped off.
“They took [Thaba hostage] saying they were going inside but something happened and they ran away. There were about six armed men with automatic rifles. They had caught him at the gate.”
Yet another version was reported at Norwood police station. Police spokesman Captain Richard Munyai told the Sunday Times there had been a single armed suspect.
“It was an attempted robbery where the driver [of Mufamadi’s car] saw the suspect and drove off. The suspect fired one shot and hit a left mirror. Nothing was taken and no one got injured.”
However, the manager at the hotel, William Gyesi, said no incident happened in the vicinity of the establishment last Wednesday.
“Yes, she came on Wednesday... it was her and crew, the presidential security guys. But there was no incident,” he said.
Gyesi said Dlamini-Zuma stayed at the high-end guesthouse often and was always accompanied by Presidential Protection Unit guards.
“If there was something like that I would have heard about it,” he said.
A security guard at the hotel also said no attack took place during Dlamini-Zuma’s stay.
Politicians allocated SAPS VIP officers in the past include COPE leader Mosiuoa Lekota and EFF leader Julius Malema, when he was president of the ANC Youth League.
The SAPS has refused to give DA leader Mmusi Maimane security even though he has faced several security incidents and has twice approached the police about it. “They said according to their assessment he doesn’t qualify for VIP security,” said Maimane’s spokes- man, Mabine Seabe.