JACOB ZUMA was still firmly in charge when Paul Mashatile first demanded his resignation as president — but was it out of principle, or just a calculated strategy by a politician with a flair for palace politics?
Until a series of revelations about the deputy president by News24, it was easier to believe Mashatile had acted in good faith when he stood up against Zuma and state capture. But a special investigation entitled Mashatile Unmasked — A president in waiting: inside his life of excess suggests the opposite.
The investigation paints a picture of a career politician enjoying a life of abundance and luxury thanks to a series of opportunistic relationships with benefactors who, in turn, regularly benefit from lucrative government contracts.
The revelations include:
* Mashatile still has links to Edwin Sodi, who is on trial with former Free State premier Ace Magashule on charges of corruption and fraud related to a R255-million asbestos tender.
* And also with Ndavhe Mareda, chair of the Makole Group, whose company Black Royalty Minerals owns Koornfontein Mine, previously owned by the Gupta brothers and recently re-contracted to supply Eskom with coal.
* Until recently, Mashatile had free use of Sodi and Mareda's luxury homes in Clifton and Fresnaye, respectively. Mashatile regularly used the houses to entertain female friends and members of his inner circle and treat them to expensive drinks.
* The Zondo Commission into state capture found that Sodi had made generous payments through the accounts of his business Blackhead Consulting to “gain access, secure influence and maintain connections with individuals in provincial and national governments".
The commission's report pertinently states:
“Alternately, Mr Sodi's method of record-keeping exposes Mr [Paul] Mashatile, Mr [Thulas] Nxesi and Dr [Zweli] Mkhize to the suspicion that they may have received these funds in their personal capacity and that could lead to the question [of] what each may have offered Mr Sodi in return."
* Despite official residences being available to him as deputy president, and which are maintained at great expense by the state, Mashatile lives in a house worth about R37-million in Waterfall Estate in Midrand. It belongs to his son-in-law, Nceba Nonkwelo, and his son, Thabiso Mashatile, under a complicated combination of lease agreements and loans between companies. Nonkwelo is married to Mashatile's daughter, Palesa.
* One of Nonkwelo's companies, Nonkwelo Investment Holdings (NIH), gave R2-million to the ANC at least once in 2021. A separate company, Nonkwelo Investments, received at least four loans from the Gauteng Partnership Fund (GPF) totalling about R13-million between 2013 and 2017, a period that overlapped with Mashatile's second stint as Gauteng's MEC for human settlements. Mashatile denied being in a position to influence the granting of any loans, tenders or government contracts.
* Two sources told News24 that based on the revelations, the auditor-general had decided to conduct a new audit into Nonkwelo Investments and all loans disbursed to the company. Lebogang Maile, the Gauteng MEC for human settlements, has instructed the GPF's board to investigate and report on the allegations as well.
* It turns out that Bridgman Sithole, one of Mashatile's oldest and best friends, is a director of a company that could make big money from a multibillion-rand government contract for a solar power project in the Northern Cape over the next two decades. Sithole chairs the Manzi Mashatile Foundation, which was established after the death of the deputy president's wife and named after her.
* Robinson Ramaite, also a close friend of Mashatile and whose companies have benefited from Gauteng government contracts, can earn millions of rands from a large housing project east of Pretoria. Mashatile has on occasion holidayed in a luxury residence on the Southern Cape coast owned by Ramaite's company.
For a period until the end of 2018, Mashatile was a regular visitor to SA Winebank, an exclusive restaurant in Melrose Arch in Johannesburg that charged annual membership fees of an estimated R300,000 before closing. Mashatile had his own special chair at the restaurant, according to News24, and regularly entertained friends and female companions there. Some of his guests include members of the “Alex Mafia" such as Keith Khoza, Nkenke Kekana, Bridgman Sithole, Mike Maile and his brother, the above-mentioned MEC Lebogang Maile, as well as the late Mpho Moerane, a former mayor of Johannesburg. During these “audiences", Mashatile was often called “The Don" and “TG", the latter referring to his position as treasurer-general of the ANC at the time. Sources told News24 that after each of these events, the bill was regularly more than R50,000 and even R100,000, and that it was often paid in cash.
* The Johannesburg high court dismissed an application by Bridgman Sithole and Mike Maile asking that Media24 be banned from referring to them as members of the “Alex Mafia". Judge Ingrid Opperman called the application “an intimidatory abuse of the court process" and ordered Sithole and Maile to pay Media24's costs on a punitive scale to show the court's displeasure.
It’s all a plot
Mashatile's response to these allegations include “there's a plot to oust me". By implication, the president's people or other factions in the ANC are behind such a plot, and there is even talk of conspiracies by opposing members of the same faction. In any case, there are few ANC leaders about whom it cannot be said that they have links to dubious individuals from the old struggle networks.
The one thing that no one seriously denies is Mashatile's ambition to replace Cyril Ramaphosa as president, but the question remains what kind of strategy he would adopt to achieve this. Also, to what extent would the ANC be willing to work with the EFF to do as well as possible in next year's elections? Many observers fear Mashatile will not hesitate to align himself with the RET faction in the ANC or even with the EFF to get his way.
And it is Mashatile who, on behalf of the ANC, will lead discussions with all the political parties in parliament on how to stabilise municipalities where coalitions are needed.
Prof Susan Booysen, research director at the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection, told Natasha Marrian of the Financial Mail that Mashatile is primarily an opportunist: “He would hunt with any pack available. He wants to be president and will do whatever it takes.”
Apart from who the deputy president uses to realise his ambitions, or how he and his best friends may be exchanging favours and gifts among themselves, there is scepticism in the larger business community about Mashatile's ability to lead the government and stimulate the economy.
As analyst Nic Borain told Marrian: “He doesn’t seem to have an understanding of government and cabinet policy around economic development. I’m not suggesting that he doesn’t have that, but he is perceived by those who are looking closely as being political and empty of anything else.”
Marrian also quoted an unidentified CEO who listened to Mashatile's speech to JSE-listed companies: “It was deeply unimpressive — his knowledge of the economy seemed woefully superficial. It didn’t leave a great impression.”
So, if Mashatile does not represent a break with of state capture, nor with the ANC's habit of tolerating improper friendships with tenderpreneurs, and thinks a decadent millionaire lifestyle is acceptable while millions of people are without jobs, and does not show any sign that he understands what needs to be done so the economy can grow and create jobs, and there is a good chance that in his ambition he would be willing to make Julius Malema his successor as deputy president, what good reason remains for the rest of us to look forward to Paul Shipokosa Mashatile as the next president of South Africa?
♦ VWB ♦
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