'Spy vs Spy' Battle Set to Hot Up
Amid signs of growing division within the ruling party, the top decision-making body of the African National Congress goes into a crucial two-day meeting on Saturday as the crisis over the verbal shoot-out between National Director of Public Prosecutions Bulelani Ngcuka and Deputy President Jacob Zuma deepens.
Following the top-level meeting of the ANC's national executive committee, Zuma and Ngcuka -now tagged with the no-win accusation that he was an apartheid spy - face another torrid week of limelight and confrontation:
On Monday, Ngcuka is expected to respond to Zuma's court application for him to hand over an encrypted letter which allegedly provides documentary evidence that Zuma solicited a bribe from a French arms company. It is understood that Ngcuka's affidavit could include allegations that ANC veteran Mac Maharaj's source of allegations that Ngcuka was a spy, was himself suspected of being an apartheid spy;
Ngcuka is expected to pursue his intention to sue Maharaj for branding him as an apartheid spy;
Ngcuka's wife, Mineral and Energy Minister Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, who this week came to her husband's defence in an extraordinary statement refuting the anonymous and published allegations against him, could be drawn further into the controversy as he fights to clear his name.
Mlambo-Ngcuka cancelled a scheduled media briefing at the last minute on her portfolio on Friday, the day after she issued the statement about her husband's innocence.
As the ANC prepared for the weekend meeting, the corridors of parliament were abuzz with the issue of how to define an apartheid spy, and what relevance Maharaj's claim had in relation to the investigation into Zuma, his financial adviser Schabir Shaik and the arms deal.
Despite his dilemma in not wanting to take sides in a row that is essentially a matter for the judicial process, President Thabo Mbeki is coming under mounting pressure to intervene in the increasingly acrimonious war-of-words between Zuma and Ngcuka and the growing camps rallying to their support.
The fight descended to new levels this week with the allegation by Maharaj that Ngcuka was an apartheid spy.
Justice Minister Penuell Maduna responded by announcing the appointment of a cabinet committee consisting of six cabinet ministers - and clearly approved by Mbeki - to probe the allegations that Ngcuka was a spy.
The extraordinary move was the closest Mbeki has come to acknowledging that the growing controversy around allegations that Zuma paid a R500 000 bribe to a French arms company in return for his political influence are damaging key institutions of state, including the National Directorate of Public Prosecutions.
The committee consists of Maduna, Correctional Services Minister Ben Skosana, Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota, Intelligence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, Safety and Security Minister Charles Nqakula and a further minister appointed by Mbeki - expected to be Finance Minister Trevor Manuel.
Maduna also welcomed the decision by the French judicial authorities to co-operate in the search for Alain Thethard, the man who holds the key to confirming the alleged bribe.
In her unsolicited defence of her husband, Mlambo-Ngcuka said wide-ranging allegations made against him were untrue.
She questioned why the allegation by Maharaj that he was a spy had been brought to light at this late stage when there had been many opportunities in the past to do so.
"Maharaj alleges that his spy identity was confirmed by his possession of three identity documents which were discovered when we applied for the birth certificate of our son from the Geneva consulate where we lived at the time and where he was born.
"The file with the details of my husband's spying career is supposed to be in safe-keeping. We hope it will be made public so that it can provide some light to all of us," she said.
"We also do not plan to make 'clearing Bulelani's name' a national crusade - we have much more important work to do," Mlambo-Ngcuka said.
With acknowledgements to John Battersby and the Saturday Star.