Bongo blames bribe woes on 'jealous' Mthembu and Mbete

Zuma minister, in bid to clear his name, points finger at ANC top brass

03 June 2018 - 00:01 By ANDISIWE MAKINANA
Bongani Bongo
Bongani Bongo
Image: Elmond Jiyane

Former state security minister Bongani Bongo has accused National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete and ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu of implicating him in a bribe allegedly offered to a senior parliamentary official.

Bongo, now an ANC backbencher, made the claim in a brief interview with the Sunday Times this week. He spoke after an affidavit he submitted to parliament's joint ethics committee came to light.

Bongo's affidavit was in response to a sworn statement submitted in October to the ethics committee by Ntuthuzelo Vanara, the evidence leader of the parliamentary inquiry into the capture of Eskom by the Guptas. Vanara's statement was that Bongo offered him a "blank cheque" if he would suppress the investigation.

Speaking to the Sunday Times on Thursday, Bongo said Vanara had acted with Mbete, Mthembu and other ANC MPs who were jealous of his ministerial appointment.

"It's a ploy of Baleka. They were just angry that Zuma made me a minister. I am the only minister who was appointed from being an ordinary member to minister.

"I was not a chairperson of a committee, I was not a deputy [minister], I was a back-bencher in the true sense of backbenching and I was appointed not only as minister but minister of state security."

Mthembu said Bongo's allegations were "hogwash". He said he would sue Bongo for defamation.

Speaking on behalf of Mbete, parliament spokesman Moloto Mothapo rejected Bongo's assertions.

"The speaker harbours no feelings of jealousy against any of these MPs other than her endeavour to jealously guard the image of parliament."

Mothapo said Bongo should ventilate any complaint or allegation to the ethics committee.

Bongo said he had instructed his lawyers to sue Vanara for R3-million in defamation damages.

"People have already judged me in the country. When you google 'Bongo' now, it says he bribed the state capture [inquiry]. This man is a briber. People see me as a briber."

Bongo said he would request that Mbete be brought before parliament's ethics committee to explain why she had sent Vanara's affidavit to then-president Jacob Zuma.

Bongo suggested that by sending Zuma the affidavit, Mbete wanted him fired.

"Why didn't she follow the procedures of parliament? She was saying, here is an affidavit, reshuffle this chap now. This chap has bribed Vanara.

"The president didn't do what she wanted and she is now canvassing the matter through a normal process," he said.

In his affidavit to the ethics committee, Bongo denied attempting to bribe Vanara.

He accused the committee, Mbete and acting secretary to parliament, Baby Tyawa, of prejudice because of the way the committee had handled the matter. Bongo claimed it had been unnecessarily delayed.

Bongo questioned why Vanara waited over two weeks, from the day of their meeting, October 10, to the day of lodging an affidavit, October 26 - just days after his appointment as a cabinet minister.

Baleka Mbete
Baleka Mbete
Image: ESA ALEXANDER

But Mothapo described Vanara as "a consummate professional" who had no interest in the internal affairs of any political party. He pointed out that Vanara complained to Tyawa the same day that he met Bongo. This is confirmed in Vanara's affidavit.

Bongo was appointed on October 17, during Zuma's last cabinet reshuffle. He was fired in February when President Cyril Ramaphosa appointed his own cabinet.

According to Bongo, the delayed lodging of the affidavit - days after his appointment to Zuma's cabinet - proved there was a political plot to have him removed.

Bongo is also unhappy that the ethics committee consulted him only in January for a right of reply over an alleged incident that took place in October.

"The current situation has been there and in the limelight since October 26 2017. Neither the acting registrar nor the secretary of parliament has taken keen interest in the matter."

He said the failure to speedily process the matter was "fatal" and had tainted the process and his good name.

"Opportunistically, in my opinion, and under questionable circumstances and intent, some time in November 2017, I had to learn, quite painfully from the media, that the matter has been referred to the former president of the republic [Zuma] and it was under his due consideration."

Bongo said he met Vanara because he was impressed by his "impeccable art of examining witnesses" during the SABC inquiry and also on Mbete's advice because he and Vanara were lawyers.

He had approached Mbete in her position as ANC national chairwoman.

"I said [to Vanara], let's exchange views. If the president is going to appoint a commission of inquiry, why do you have a parallel process? What would you advise, legally, so that we don't seem clumsy?"

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