Zuma
Source: Twitter @momaake.

President Jacob Zuma has – quite unusually – for the second time in less than 24 hours said that he does not know a senior former ANC MP who said the Guptas offered her a ministerial job, and insists that she did not accompany him to China in 2010, when news reports at the time suggest that she did.

Zuma
Source: Twitter @momaake.

The back-to-back statements by Zuma about former chairman of parliament’s committee on public enterprises, Vytjie Mentor, is all the more surprising because Zuma – who rarely releases statements – has said nothing about a much bigger crisis facing the country, the weeks-long battle between the Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and the Hawks police unit that has seen the rand slipping in value the last few days.

On Wednesday it is over R16 to the dollar, which was the level it reached after Zuma’s sacking of finance minister Nhlanhla Nene in December. Many have ascribed it to the police Hawks unit questioning Gordhan.

Shortly before his budget speech in February – timing that some have called highly suspicious – Gordhan reportedly received a letter from the Hawks asking him to answer questions about a rogue unit that had been created at the SA Revenue Service during his term of office there.


No details of the questions have been made public, and Gordhan, who has recently completed a roadshow to the UK and US with business and labour leaders to try bolster South Africa’s image in financial markets abroad, has said the Hawks are harassing him. The Hawks have said Gordhan is acting as if he is above the law and threatened to take constitutional action.

Many news reports say the standoff between the two is a proxy battle between Hawks ally Zuma and allies of Gordhan trying to save the country from state capture by Zuma and his cronies such as the Gupta family.

On Tuesday the National Treasury released a statement saying “The Minister would have liked to abide by the request of the Presidency and the ANC (as an NEC member) to not debate this (Hawks) matter publicly. However, once again the Hawks triggered a response because of their threatening statement.

“Ideally, the minister will not be commenting any further. His focus remains on the vital work of the National Treasury.”

The Hawks, in turn, released a statement saying “The Hawks do not engage people on public space but the Minister has left us no choice but to clear the air, set the record straight and restore the public’s trust on (sic) us as an elite crime fighting unit.”

The standoff between the two, most news media have it, will lead to a showdown.

anc caucus
A diagram of the ANC parliamentary caucus, including Mentor, who was in the post from 2004 to 2008, but Zuma says he does not remember her. Source: Facebook.

ZUMA CAN’T RECALL MENTOR, DESPITE CHINA

As for Vytjie Mentor, yesterday Zuma released a brief statement in response to allegations by Mentor that the Guptas had offered her a ministerial job at their Saxonwald home while Zuma was in the next room. This is the third time the Gupta name has come up regarding offering ministerial jobs to ANC members (the others being deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas and sports minister Fikile Mbalula). Zuma said he had no recollection of Mentor. A short while later the Presidency released a statement adding that Mentor had not accompanied Zuma on a trip to China in 2010.

“Ms Mentor was definitely not part of the official delegation to the People’s Republic of China, should she have travelled to the country during the State Visit,” the statement said.

However, according to news reports at the time, Mentor was in China at the time as Zuma, and in fact had subsequently been chided quite publicly in the press for the amount of money spent on the ticket to get there.

“Vytjie Mentor, the former chairman of parliament’s committee on public enterprises, flew first class at a cost of R138 000 to join President Jacob Zuma’s entourage in Beijing in August,” a news report at the time said. In November 2010, Mentor and two other ANC MPs were demoted as chairpersons of portfolio committees, she apparently as a result of the China trip.