Deputy President David Mabuza has vehemently denied allegations by the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture that he may have had ties to the infamous Gupta family. Sources close to the investigations have revealed that on December 3, the commission had its sights set on Mabuza, second in command to President Cyril Ramaphosa in both the country and the ANC.
He is known in the party’s circles as the cat with nine lives.
According to the commission’s letter, which City Press has seen, Mabuza was advised to respond to allegations that he had had a relationship with the Guptas or their associates – and he responded by spitting fire.
Attached to the commission’s letter was an affidavit from the commission’s chief investigator, Terence Nombembe, who is also a former Auditor-General of South Africa, declaring that Mabuza had received four phone calls from Gupta lieutenant Ashu Chawla in 2009.
The four telephone calls, which were made between April and June of that year, lasted a total of 424 seconds – which amounted to just over seven minutes of conversation within a period of 67 days. They included a call on April 16, a second call on May 22 and a further two calls on June 22.
“As you will see, Nombembe attaches to his affidavit documents on which he bases the suggestion that there was, or may have been, an association or relationship of one kind or another between yourself [Mabuza] and the Gupta family, or a member or members of the Gupta family or their associates,” wrote commission secretary Professor Itumeleng Mosala.
He added that Nombembe’s affidavit was being shared with Mabuza “to afford you an opportunity to see the information obtained by the commission concerning you and the Guptas or their associates, to which the commission may have regard in deciding whether you were associated in any way with the Guptas or some of their associates, or had a certain relationship with them”.
Mabuza was offered an opportunity to depose an affidavit or affirmed declaration, “in which you respond to Nombembe’s affidavit and admit or deny the contents thereof”.
Masala then warned:
If you do not respond, you run the risk that the commission may accept as true the contents of Nombembe’s affidavit and annexures, and rely on them to make certain findings about any association that may or may not have existed between yourself and the Guptas or their associates.
Mabuza did not take kindly to the allegations, saying that they amounted to “a set of deceptive averments”. As was apparent from both the content and design of the affidavit, he said, “Nombembe’s sole intention was to create the false impression that, between the period of April 16 and June 22 2009, I’d been in telephonic contact with a certain Ashu Chawla”.
“This is untrue. I categorically deny that I have ever had telephonic contact with Chawla at any time and specifically between the period April 16 and June 22 2009. In any event, I have never been acquainted with Chawla and have never had business to discuss with him. Quite frankly, I simply do not know Chawla from anywhere.”
He declared that there was no cogent evidence linking him or anyone in his immediate association with Chawla’s listed cellphone number during 2009 or at any other time.
“With the facilities at his disposal, Nombembe could have simply summoned the relevant mobile operator to provide him with customer registration details in the same way that he summoned them to provide him with mobile communication data of certain [other] individuals,” he added.
Mabuza stated that the mobile operator would have provided Nombembe with “irrefutable evidence” that the mobile number had in fact been registered to the presidency as far back as about 2007, when he was an MEC in Mpumalanga.
“For reasons unrelated to the pursuit of the truth, Nombembe opted not to summon the mobile operator to provide him with relevant information that pertains to ownership details of the mobile number,” he said. “Additionally, Nombembe could simply have asked me if I had in any way ever been associated with the mobile number … before hastily deposing to an affidavit that turned out to be so beleaguered with distorted inferences.
“This set of truthful information would have certainly dissuaded any reasonable and honest investigator from deposing to the kind of affidavit to which Nombembe deposed,” he said.
Mabuza added that:
Nombembe could also have opted for a more reasonable approach and simply dialled the number to establish whether it was actively in use and, if so, at least enquired from the current user about the period in which they had been using the number.
Mabuza said that the owner of the number, a presidency employee, would have confirmed that she had used it since about 2007 and was still doing so. However, “for some inexplicable reason, Nombembe decided against this logical path. I submit that the commission must draw a negative inference of Nombembe’s investigative choices.
“I aver that there is no reasonable or honest motive by a person in the charge of Nombembe to make the false claims he did, other than a suspicious desperation to associate me with corruption and recklessness regarding the consequences of his deposition.”
In Mpumalanga, Mabuza was the MEC for roads and transport from 2007 to 2008; then for agriculture and land administration between 2008 and 2009; after which he served as the premier until 2018. He became the country’s deputy president in 2018.
The Zondo commission released the last of its state capture reports last month, but Mabuza was not mentioned among the string of ANC leaders and government officials implicated in the Gupta ring of corruption.