Publication: Mail and Guardian Issued: Date: 2002-07-12 Reporter: Sam Sole Editor:

Why Yap at Yengeni's Heels?


Publication  Mail & Guardian
Date 2002-07-12
Reporter Sam Sole
Web Link


As Tony Yengeni bids to have the charges against him dismissed, a picture is emerging of a broader political struggle which appears to be the impetus behind much of the focus on Yengeni and his associates.

The corruption case against Yengeni is entirely circumstantial, as the state is unable to show that he took any action to benefit Eads, the European defence company which gave him a huge discount on his now notorious Mercedes 4x4.

Lawyers acting for Yengeni and his co-accused, Eads director Michael Woerfel, applied this week for charges of corruption and fraud to be dropped, arguing there is no direct evidence of corruption against the two.

The state alleges the discount was procured on the understanding that Yengeni could influence the selection of bidders for contracts under the multibillion-rand arms procurement deal. However, prosecution sources admit the decision could go either way on Monday, even at this early stage and without evidence against them having been heard. In any case, no facts have emerged to show that Yengeni was more than a bit player in the arms deal.

Given that, why have so many resources been put into pursuing him? Sources close to the Scorpions investigation say that political pressure has been felt on figures associated with Deputy President Jacob Zuma, among them Yengeni and Schabir Shaik.

Yengeni and Shaik are the only South Africans to have been charged after years of intensive investigation by the Scorpions, despite the fact that the investigators were sitting on solid information relating to more senior figures, such as the late Joe Modise.

Shaik has long been associated with Zuma, serving as his personal financial adviser. Yengeni's alignment with Zuma is more indirect, flowing from his links with Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and the African National Congress Youth League (Ancyl).

Zuma's alienation from President Thabo Mbeki has long been an open secret in the ANC, but the deputy president only emerged as a real threat in 2000 as the Mbeki presidency began to crumble under internal criticism of his stance on HIV/ Aids and on economic policy.

Although the threat from Zuma receded following his unexpected public declaration in April last year that he would not stand against Mbeki as ANC president, the heat is now being turned up over the position of deputy president, due to be contested at the ANC's national conference in December.

Ancyl President Malusi Gigaba , who also enjoys Madikizela-Mandela's support, has recently nailed his colours to Zuma's mast, calling for the deputy president position to be uncontested - and sniping at ANC chairperson Mosiuoa Lekota, Zuma's main potential rival.

Party insiders say that Mbeki's continued long-term control over the party is at stake. In this regard Zuma is considered a threat while Lekota is not.

The same political intrigue appears to lie behind the media leaks which have this week embarrassed empowerment forestry company Zama Resources. Senior Department of Water Affairs and Forestry official Andile Nkuhlu has been suspended following a disclosure in the Sunday Times that he received a R55 000 payment from Zama.

Nkuhlu served on the committee which recommended Zama Resources as the preferred bidder for the partial privatisation of the huge Komatiland forestry plantations. He is also a serving member of the Ancyl executive committee under Gigaba.

Zama Resources's CEO Mcebisi Mlonzi, who has also been suspended, is a close friend and business associate of Yengeni, who represented Zama on a trip to Congo (Brazzaville) in April. Zama Resources involvement in Congo (Brazzaville) represents another provocation of Mbeki. The company has secured a major forestry concession near Point Noire, apparently with the help of French businessman Jean-Yves Ollivier - another long-time associate of Madikizela-Mandela and a key adviser to Congolese President Denis Sassou Nguesso.

Relations between Nguesso and Mbeki are known to be strained. Nguesso temporarily withdrew his ambassador from South Africa last year - apparently after the exposure of a letter written by Mbeki which accused Nguesso of having blood on his hands flowing from the ousting of his predecessor Pascal Lissouba.

Diplomatic relations were restored following the intervention of Ollivier and Madikizela-Mandela, who made a trip to Congo (Brazzaville) aboard Nguesso's private jet.

There are also major economic pressures at stake in the battle over Zama Resources, following its successful R335-million bid for 75% of the state's lucrative Komatiland forest estates -- now under threat because of the exposure of the payment to Nkuhlu.

Pulp and paper giant Mondi is understood to have committed itself to major supply contracts through its Global Forest Products joint venture in Sabie.

The deal, which includes a counter-trade investment by arms producer BAe Systems, is dependent on a secure supply from the Komatiland resources.

Attempts to reach Zama chairman Gordon Sibiya were unsuccessful, but a representative for Minister of Public Enterprises Jeff Radebe said an inquiry into the payments to Nkuhlu was being set up in terms of Public Service Commission rules.

With acknowledgements to Sam Sole and Mail & Guardian.