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INVESTIGATION | ANC funder-turned-MP and her ‘links’ to shadowy Chinese agency

Dr Xiaomei Havard says she has donated millions to the ANC, with some in the party believing she paid her way in

05 July 2021 - 20:24 By SAM DUNNING and AMANDA KHOZA
Xiaomei Havard replaced late minister in the presidency Jackson Mthembu.
WHAT'S YOUR GAME? Xiaomei Havard replaced late minister in the presidency Jackson Mthembu.
Image: Facebook

“Two million to four million.”

That is how much SA’s newest MP, Dr Xiaomei Havard, says she has donated to the ANC in the past “five or six years”.

The 55-year-old Chinese-born politician, who in January emerged from political obscurity to occupy the parliamentary seat of late presidency minister Jackson Mthembu, told Sunday Times Daily she had made several donations from her many businesses to the party.

When asked how much she had donated to the ANC, she said the amounts varied.

“Each time it is different. Maybe this time they want R8,000, next time R15,000; and different organisations tried to support because they have the love for the ANC. In general it is small, not from one organisation ... Maybe from all of them, R2m to R4m. When they request, then we help them. Each time it is a small figure. This is over five or six years. We did a lot of donation for Johannesburg because we love the majority party,” she said last month.

The business interests of Havard, listed as the director of 56 companies on the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC) database, have not yet featured in parliament’s register of members’ interests. Last month, parliament’s ethics committee published the 2019 register. It has not met regularly since last year, citing the lockdown and a reluctance to meet virtually for security reasons. Havard’s interests will only be published in the 2021 register, when it is eventually released.

According to the CIPC, Havard has registered 35 close corporations with interests in health, mining, property and wealth management. Five of them are in deregistration.

She has also registered 13 private companies, one of which is in deregistration, and eight non-profit companies, seven of which are active.

Two of her non-profit companies have now come under the spotlight after allegations by international scholars that, through them, she is linked to a shadowy organisation within the Chinese Communist Party, the United Front Work Department (UFWD).

The UFWD’s remit includes building elite patronage networks and cementing Chinese influence in Africa and around the world. While the Chinese government has downplayed the UFWD’s role in soft diplomacy, it had a bigger budget than the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2019.

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute reported that the UFWD cooperates closely with China’s spy agencies. Zhou Enlai, China’s first premier, established the principle of “nestling intelligence within the United Front” and “using the United Front to push forth intelligence”.

In February, senior Japan Institute of International Affairs fellow Dr Monika Chansoria reported that Havard was “a figure” in the UFWD, citing two of her non-profits — the African Federation of Chinese Women in Commerce and Industry and the China-South Africa Distinguished Female Business Council of KZN SA — as UFWD bodies.

Havard denied links with the UFWD.

“I don’t know what’s that. I am so surprised and even checked in Mandarin what it is and I do not know what it means. I think this organisation maybe did some conference. I have been to China many times, attending provincial conferences, and normally these big business conferences, they have hosts and maybe my name was recorded there because I am one VIP that was invited. That is why I don’t know this organisation,” Havard said.

Asked if she was affiliated to the Chinese Communist Party, she said: “Yes, of course, 30 years ago I was a member of the Chinese Communist Party and then I came overseas and after I got my South African citizenship I lost my Chinese citizenship and automatically I stopped being a member of the Communist Party.”

She added: “I don’t know anyone and I have never been sworn in. Nothing, nothing and I don’t know what this organisation is for. Never, I have never had links to any political party in China, never.”

However, research by Sunday Times Daily suggests Havard has more UFWD links than the directorships of two of her non-profit companies suggest. 

She appears to have worked for at least three organisations officially overseen by the UFWD or China’s foreign ministry, the stated aims of which range from building support for China’s attempts to absorb Taiwan, to charity drives, cultural exchanges, investment forums and political and business networking.

Key among them is the All Africa Association for the Promotion of the Peaceful Reunification of China (APPRC), of which Havard has described herself as deputy director. The aim of the association is to build support for the Chinese Communist Party’s position that Taiwan is part of China. Securing support for this position and isolating Taiwan are key aims of Chinese foreign policy.

Chinese state media reported that the All Africa APPRC is the official continental branch of China’s central APPRC and is responsible for at least 20 sub-branches in individual African countries. The central APPRC is run by the UFWD and was listed as such on the UFWD’s website, reported conservative Washington think-tank The Jamestown Foundation.

Dr Mareike Ohlberg, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund’s Asia Programme and co-leader of the Stockholm China Forum, said “reunification councils are classic united front organisations that exist in almost every country in the world, plus some umbrella organisations covering larger regions”.

“Some countries with large diasporas, such as Australia or the UK, have more than one such council. The parent organisation in Beijing is led by senior Chinese Communist Party leader Wang Yang, which gives a good indication of how much importance the party attaches to the organisation. Its main purpose is to get the Chinese diaspora in line with the party’s position on Taiwan. But in countries with few other United Front organisations, these councils may also serve a more general purpose of organising and keeping tabs on the diaspora,” she said.

Of the All Africa APPRC, Havard said: “I am not the director of this organisation, not sure it is NPC or NPO. For unifying local Chinese community, this organisation appoints near 100 community organisation leaders as their deputy directors or honourable directors.

Yes, the aim of the association is to build support for the Chinese Communist Party’s position that Taiwan is a part of China. But I have not done any work to absorb Taiwan return into China … I have not done any specific work to unify the Chinese and the Taiwanese.
Dr Xiaomei Havard

“When the organisation has a big election meeting once in two or three years, the organisation calls the members or directors to meet. Only several active board directors do some social community work on behalf of the organisations. The rest of deputy directors plays like sleeping members.”

She added: “Yes, the aim of the association is to build support for the Chinese Communist Party’s position that Taiwan is a part of China. But I have not done any work to absorb Taiwan return into China ... I have not done any specific work to unify the Chinese and the Taiwanese.”

Other non-profits directed by Havard have linked themselves to the Chinese reunification effort. These include the African Federation of Chinese Women in Commerce and Industry, whose establishment in 2007 was announced on the official website of China’s foreign ministry and in state-owned newspaper The People’s DailyIts inaugural president, Chen Yuling, said it “will work closely with the All Africa APPRC raise the banner of anti-independence”.

In 2013, by which time she was reported describing herself as a deputy director of the All Africa APPRC, Havard was a director of the federation, which she remains. In 2015 she was made president of the federation in a ceremony overseen by the Chinese deputy consul-general in Johannesburg, Ren Xiaoxia. After a three-year term, Ren handed Havard an honorary president’s certificate in 2018. Senior APPRC officials were present at both ceremonies.

Another organisation Havard is linked to is the Henan Overseas Exchange Association, an official Chinese body overseen by the UFWD. In 2018 her alma mater, the Zhengzhou University of Light Industry in Henan, listed her as a “notable alumnus” and offered a biography of her work, describing her as the association’s executive director. The association focuses on business and political networking and has hosted networking events with the SA-based Central China Business Council of Southern Africa, of which Havard is a listed director on the CIPC database.

She denied her non-profit was linked to the UFWD, but said she was aware delegations from her home province visited SA to attend business conferences.

“Sometimes I invite them as a community leader for two to three hours for business seminar to try and introduce China’s development and exchange business information. The question of conflict of interest does not arise, that is why I think that somebody is sabotaging me, trying to make stories. I have been here for too long, over 25 years and I don’t even know who is who in China because all my family is here.”

In later responses to questions, she said: “If my name is not on the list of that organisations Chinese Community will think that I am a bad origin Chinese SA citizen ... I have done many cultural exchanges, investment forums, political and business networking through different NPC or NPO between China and SA. That is nothing wrong. It is at the business ground level.”

Sunday Times Daily has also found photographs on Chinese-language news sites of Havard being presented with an official appointment letter by a branch of the Chinese foreign ministry.

In November 2019 Havard was installed as an “overseas liaison director” by the foreign affairs office of Dezhou, a city of six million people in eastern China. The Dezhou government described its directors as “expatriates with political status, economic clout, academic credentials and social influence”, and quoted Havard as saying: “I am willing to act as a bridge in bringing Chinese enterprises to Africa and South Africa.”

Havard said: “I have not done any work for these organisations officially overseen by the UFWD or China's foreign ministry. I am a Chinese community leader in different organisations and that is why you ask me about organisations, some of which are my NPCs. I have five or six NPCs: the Brics Culture and Arts, China and SA Business Women Council and also federation, I am a member. I am the founder of the federation, in two to three years they have been trying to change leadership, but I told them that I have since become a government employee and they are busy electing the new president.”

She said she has not yet had the opportunity to resign from her positions in the NPCs registered in her name and has asked parliament for more time to do so.

“I declared to parliament. I told them that I need time to change the names because suddenly I was sworn in and everything was done in a hurry. I need to pay accountants to change directorships for my NPCs,” she said, adding that she had never earned a cent from her NPCs.

“It was a non-profit. We get money and we donate it. Even last week we support the ANC local election for volunteers, food and coffee.”

Given the UFWD’s links to Chinese intelligence, Sunday Times Daily asked Havard about whether she had been approached to provide the Chinese government with information.

“No, I am a business-person and ANC member. They have never asked me anything. I am not protocol or a government officers, they have never asked me, I do not know this organisation.

“I don’t have any connections to spies and I don’t know where that is coming from. They are just jealous because when I was sworn in I was the first female Chinese sworn in as a politician and they are so surprised.

“Outside of South Africa they try to find out my background and make stories and locally, the small parties don’t understand,” she said.

Asked who could be behind the allegations, she said: “It may be minorities. You know China is becoming an emerging economy and some are wondering why this lady with a Chinese background is coming up, and then they become suspicious and call me a spy. They say that everything of mine is fake, I have fake marriage, fake citizenship, fake education and everything is fake, but they are wrong. I have been in South Africa for over 25 years.”

Havard said her political career began in this country when her late husband, Richard, a British-South African, introduced her to Nelson Mandela. She said she is close friends with “a lot of African ladies who introduced me to the ANC, the Albertina Sisulu and Nelson Mandela family, that is how I got involved with politics”.

“I changed my membership to [the] Albertina Sisulu branch and I am close with my African brothers and sisters on the ground.”

She said as a woman she feels “attacked” for standing up for the poor in SA and on the African continent.

She also denies she paid her way into parliament. 

“I only worked from the ground and I never saw myself here because my life was about business. From 2004 I was already registered as a member of the ANC, attending a lot of work in my branch and doing activities, and I have a love for the ANC. I never thought I would be an MP, it was never my plan.”

Asked why the ANC chose her, she said it was because of her community work.

When Sunday Times Daily asked ANC chief whip in parliament Pemmy Majodina if she was aware of allegations that Havard had links to the UFWD, she said: 'I was not aware of these allegations. She has not as yet referred anything to me.' Later, Majodina said she had read Havard’s responses to Sunday Times Daily and there was no need to conduct an investigation.

“My province from China has already signed two diplomatic relationships with the North West and Limpopo, and right now they are trying to sign with the Free State, and that is our African agricultural province,” she said, adding that her dream was to change SA’s fortunes. 

Chinese politics expert Prof Ralph Weber, of the University of Basel in Switzerland, told Sunday Times Daily: “The United Front is an important piece in the overall attempt of the Chinese Party-State to exert influence abroad, largely using and targeting the local Chinese diaspora, but also creating linkages to the broader economic and political elites of the target country.

“It works in tandem with other instruments, such as those channelled through propaganda or international liaison efforts, city partnerships, chambers of commerce and operations in proximity with the work of intelligence services. The embassy and consulates often serve as important links in coordinating and facilitating these efforts.”

In 2019 the ANC’s integrity commission listed Havard alongside 22 high-profile politicians as candidates they wanted removed from the party’s list for parliament because of “corruption ... and other acts of misconduct”.

In 2011, Havard was accused of fraud relating to her immigration business, which came to light when she and a Chinese national went to court to challenge home affairs’ refusal to allow the latter into the country.

However, she denies any wrongdoing and said her lawyer told her at the time that she had won her case. She said her employees had “sabotaged” her after her husband became disabled before he died. They forged documents and betrayed her trust, she said.

William Gumede, an associate professor at the Wits University School of Governance, said if Havard’s links to the UFWD were true, it would raise questions about conflict of interest.

“If there is a perception that you are furthering the interests of another organisation in conflict with the values of the South African parliament, then there is a problem. When you make an oath, you say that you will act in the interest of South Africans. If you are an elected representative and there is a conflict of interest, then you have to declare it. That is also a question we should ask, did she declare it?” he said.

He said the failure to declare interests, whether political or material, was an offence.

“It also raises questions like what is the ANC’s vetting process? Who did their vetting? Are they so disorganised? Because if someone wants to be a member of parliament, they need to be vetted,” he said.

When Sunday Times Daily asked ANC chief whip in parliament Pemmy Majodina if she was aware of allegations that Havard had links to the UFWD, she said: “I was not aware of these allegations. She has not as yet referred anything to me.”

Later, Majodina said she had read Havard’s responses to Sunday Times Daily and there was no need to conduct an investigation.

Meanwhile, an MP serving on the parliamentary portfolio committee on health alongside Havard said even her ANC comrades wondered how she landed the job.

“I found the reaction to her appointment at the time to have been quite embarrassing from South Africans because a lot of people and my colleagues in the ANC were like, they did not even know where she came from,” the MP said. 

“She’s very eager. There were serious xenophobic undertones when she was appointed, but there were also serious questions, like which branch she was from and they did not know who she was.

“This raises questions of whether there is money involved and I believe so, because she is incredibly wealthy from what I understand. I honestly had forgotten about her until the budget speech (recently). She struggles with the language as well.”


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