Parliamentary officials back up story of lawyer accusing Bongani Bongo of bribery
The state’s second and third witnesses in the corruption case against former state security minister Bongani Bongo backed up aspects of the testimony of his bribery accuser, Ntuthuzelo Vanara, on the second day of the Cape Town high court trial on Tuesday.
Bongo’s legal team concluded their cross-examination of Vanara, who accused Bongo of offering him a bribe in exchange for him stopping or delaying parliament’s inquiry into Eskom in October 2017.
Despite a grilling by Bongo’s senior counsel, advocate Michael Hellens, and the introduction of personal matters in an attempt to prove Vanara and the other witnesses manufactured the complaint on behalf of an ANC faction, the witness testimonies and cross-examinations ran smoothly.
This is probably because all the witnesses so far have legal backgrounds and two are trained lawyers, including Vanara. Bongo is an advocate.
The state’s second witness, public enterprises portfolio committee secretary Disang Mocumi, corroborated Vanara’s account of a conversation in which the man who was leading evidence in the Eskom inquiry raised his suspicions about three phone calls Bongo had made to him on October 4 2017.
This was a day before Vanara was scheduled to meet acting Eskom chair Zethembe Khoza to conduct a preliminary interview, with parliamentary hearings due to begin on October 20.
Mocumi told judge president John Hlophe that after arriving in Johannesburg on a flight from Cape Town, Vanara received a phone call from Bongo. He said he could hear Vanara telling Bongo he was in Durban.
After the call, Vanara asked Mocumi if he knew Bongo, and told him he did not want to tell Bongo where they were due to security concerns.
Mocumi told Vanara he had seen Bongo, who was an MP, at the inquiry on a few occasions and that he seemed interested in its work.
The next day, Mocumi and Vanara were told their meeting with Khoza was cancelled because the Eskom chair had been called to an urgent meeting in Cape Town with then public enterprises minister Lynne Brown in Cape Town.
Hellens alleged that a witness saw Mocumi and Vanara having a conversation after they testified at a parliamentary ethics committee hearing in September 2018, and reported that Mocumi told Vanara: “Mr Bongo is a small boy. We will deal with this small boy.”
Hellens said the phrase alluded to a political agenda on the part the duo.
Mocumi and Vanara denied this conversation took place, and Hellens said he would call the witness to testify about it.
Hlophe asked Mocumi why Vanara never told him about the October 10 incident, and the committee secretary replied: “He may have thought this is above me and it may be too scandalous to share something like that with me.”
The state’s third witness was secretary to the national assembly Masibulele Xaso, one of the people who asked Vanara to take up the position of evidence leader at the inquiry into Eskom.
Xaso, also a trained lawyer, said Vanara drove to Stellenbosch to meet him and the secretary to the NCOP, advocate Modibedi Phindela, after his meeting with Bongo on October 10 and told them what had transpired.
He said Vanara told them Bongo was concerned the inquiry could lead to the arrests of Eskom board members and he had been asked by Bongo to call in sick to collapse the inquiry.
Bongo had invited him to “name a price” in exchange, said Xaso, who testified that Vanara told them he declined the offer and ended the meeting.
He said he and Phindela thought it best to immediately report the incident to acting parliament secretary Penelope Tyawa, who was with them in Stellenbosch as part of a parliamentary staff conference being held there.
Xaso submitted an affidavit in 2020 after he was contacted by investigators. He said he had also made a statement to the ANC ethics committee inquiry into Bongo's alleged conduct but was not called as a witness.
Hellens questioned why Xaso, Phindela and Vanara chose “a political route” to report the alleged bribe, once again introducing Bongo’s assertion that the public office bearers were colluding as part of a political campaign against him.
Xaso said he believed at the time and within the context that it was appropriate to report it to the most senior person in the administrative body of parliament and for the institution to then take the matter forward.
Hellens said as a trained lawyer, Xaso should have known that he ought to have reported the case to the police.
He replied: “I am not a politician, Mr Vanara is not a politician, Ms Tyawa is not a politician. I am an administrative officer. At that stage I did not believe we needed to report it to the police. The institution could report it to the police if they wanted to.”
Hellens said: “This matter boiled in the press. A political train was put in motion and it was only taken up criminally after a politician laid a complaint to the police.”
The state was supposed to call Phindela but due to the state of the nation debate on Tuesday he was not available, to Hlophe’s annoyance.
The judge president said he wanted to conclude the trial as soon as possible and it was as important as the debate. He gave prosecutors 15 minutes to get Phindela to court, which by that time was full of Bongo supporters, including young people wearing Congress of SA Students shirts and a few ANC MPs.
During the wait Bongo spoke to his supporter. At one point he entered court and walked to his seat while singing Umshini wam, former president Jacob Zuma’s controversial call to arms.
Phindela did not arrive in the allotted time and Hlophe adjourned the case until Friday.
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