Opinion

Full of holes, Mentor's testimony doesn't mean the case against Gupta state capture should be doubted

17 February 2019 - 00:00


Vytjie Mentor first revealed that the Guptas had offered to make her a minister on her Facebook page in March 2016, while on holiday in Thailand.
"But they hap [sic] previously asked me to become Minister of Public Enterprises when Barbara Hogan got the chop, provided that I would drop the SAA flight-route to India and give it Lto them. I refused and so I was never made a Minister. The President was in another room when they offered me this in Saxonworld [sic]," she wrote.
This casually written post from an exotic location in response to social media chatter about the Guptas is hardly the appropriate way to make a serious accusation against the president and his powerful friends.
Then again, as COPE leader Mosiuoa Lekota demonstrated this week, neither is venting long-harboured resentments from the podium at parliament, especially when you are not too certain of your facts.
Considering the politics of the time and former president Jacob Zuma's grip on the ANC, it is understandable why Mentor did not immediately reveal the alleged Gupta offer to her in 2010.
But the way she went about telling her story was unorthodox and frankly bizarre.
After Zuma said he did not know her and "is not aware of the alleged incidents in her career that she has reportedly written about on social media", she went into a froth.
She wrote another Facebook post recalling her interactions with Zuma in the ANC parliamentary caucus, and said he knew her from the time he returned from exile.
"As for the Guptas. I'm not done yet, a lot still needs to be told . will leave this here for now. I will only talk to the media if necessary from Friday late. The scoundrels can continue to insult and bark. If anything happens to me or my family, you all know who to suspect. I am NOT scared thou [sic]. I know my Redeemer Lives!"
Emotion and paranoia notwithstanding, it is not clear why Mentor decided that a trail of whacky social media posts was the best way to channel her claims.
Jacques Pauw writes in The President's Keepers that two months later, Mentor marched into the Durbanville police station and asked to speak to Gen Jeremy Vearey, a well-known and respected anti-gang crusader. When officers at the station called Vearey, he sent a captain to debrief Mentor. According to Pauw, Vearey said after hearing about Mentor's claims that he thought she was "a woman of trouble".
Apart from the torturous process of compiling various versions of her affidavit, Mentor was also interviewed by former public protector Thuli Madonsela.
After Vearey studied her affidavit, he discussed it with intelligence chief Peter Jacobs, who agreed there was a prima facie case of criminality. Madonsela also found there was something to Mentor's claims and therefore decided that they should be investigated further by a judicial commission of inquiry.
Before the establishment of the inquiry, Mentor published a book, called No Holy Cows, in which she repeated the allegations about the Guptas and also claimed that Zuma had sexually harassed her. The book was self-published and did not go through a basic fact-checking process.
There were inconsistencies and inaccuracies.
And so, with all this baggage, Mentor landed in front of judge Raymond Zondo.
By any reasonable test, she was a disastrous witness and appears to have done more damage than provide assistance to the process of investigating the Guptas' looting spree.
It was no surprise that Mentor's version unravelled under cross-examination. Her evidence was riddled with unnecessary detail, such as the décor in the Gupta residence and the type of curry she ate, all of which seems to have built in her head over the passage of time.
The question now is what will Zondo do with Mentor's evidence?
According to legal experts, the judge will be forced to disregard everything as there are simply too many holes in Mentor's testimony. He will not be able to cherry-pick what is useful.
Will this have a major impact on the state capture inquiry? This depends on whether Zondo decides that Mentor had tried to mislead him or whether her version was simply unreliable.
But as garbled as Mentor's version is, it is her ANC comrades who might still be able to make this agonising process worthwhile.
It was not only Mentor who had experiences with the Guptas. There are many others who did and still remain silent, despite now professing to be on board the anti-state-capture train.
If more ANC leaders and current and former members of cabinet come forward, Mentor's leaky version would not matter in the context of overwhelming evidence. But for as long as she is among a handful of people brave enough to speak up, the Guptas and their collaborators will continue to evade justice and use propaganda to sway public sentiment in their favour.
State capture is a major cause of our power and financial crises. One flaky testimony should not detract from that.

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