Gloves off for Mabuza and Phosa
Battle lines drawn in R10m defamation lawsuit between erstwhile political comrades
Lies, betrayal and political back-stabbing were the major themes in a R10 million lawsuit between Mpumalanga Premier David Mabuza and former ANC treasurer-general Mathews Phosa this week. Northern Gauteng High Court Judge Bill Prinsloo has described the civil claim as “somewhat an unfortunate case” between erstwhile political comrades. The two sat about a metre apart in court, but did not greet each other, while Mabuza supporters, clad in camouflage army uniforms, hurled expletives at Phosa in the court’s corridor.
The week-long trial has shown that some of the top six ANC officials had doubts about Mabuza’s leadership.
Mabuza, who is an ally of President Jacob Zuma, is demanding R10 million compensation from Phosa for defamation of character emanating from a purported intelligence report that alleges that Mabuza was an apartheid spy.
So far, no witness has claimed ownership or knowledge about the author of the spy report. Mabuza alleges that Phosa and his business associate, Nick Elliot, cooked it up to set in motion a process to topple him as provincial ANC chairperson and premier.
The report paints Mabuza as a sellout. It alleges he was a spy, code-named PN485, who informed the apartheid government about the political activities of senior ANC leaders such as Zuma, Education Minister Angie Motshekga and the late Albertina Sisulu between 1985 and 1993.
The report adds that Mabuza worked with notorious apartheid killers such as Eugene de Kock, the former Vlakplaas commander, and security policeman Butana Nofomela. The report suggests that Mabuza’s alleged espionage led to the killing of Mpumalanga ANC activist Portia Shabangu in Swaziland in 1989.
Phosa said he felt “betrayed” by the ANC leadership for leaking the report after he emailed it to deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte on September 29 2014 following an earlier meeting between the two about ANC matters. Phosa said Duarte forwarded the report to the ANC’s top six officials.
Phosa, who was the first Mpumalanga premier in 1994 but is now a lawyer and businessman, told the court that Duarte had a question on behalf of ANC national officials about Mabuza after their meeting in April 2014.
Duarte, according to Phosa’s testimony, asked: “Comrade Mathews, we want to know, as ANC officials, who is this David Mabuza?”
He said that he told Duarte he recruited the young Mabuza into one of the ANC cells in the Eastern Transvaal (now Mpumalanga) and appointed him education MEC in his cabinet in 1994.
Phosa said that after an anonymous person dropped the spy report in his second house in White River, he sent it to Duarte so that the ANC could investigate. “I feel betrayed that the report was leaked.” He denied assertions by Mabuza’s senior counsel, Ettiene Labuschagne, that he and Elliot fabricated the report and disseminated it to damage Mabuza’s image in the ANC. Phosa implied that Mabuza’s lawyer, Davis Mculu, disseminated the report to the media because, when a journalist asked for his comment, he asked for a copy of the report and the journalist sent it to him with a covering letter from Mculu Attorneys.
Phosa’s former house manager, Jan Venter, testified that in March 2014 he saw and overheard his boss and Elliot plotting the spy report, which Phosa drafted on a piece of paper.
“I put it to you that you did not give the report to Mabuza because you have an axe to grind [because] the relationship between you and this premier has been sour for many years,” Labuschagne said.
“You concocted the report,” he added. Phosa said this assertion was “nonsense”.
Mabuza’s case suffered a major blow when the evidence given by Shabangu’s daughter, Nonhlanhla Khoza, had to be expunged from the record.
Khoza told the court that Phosa told her on a plane from Mbombela to Johannesburg in January last year that Mabuza was involved in the killing of her mother. Prinsloo struck out the evidence because it was presented for the first time in court this week and Phosa was not given a chance to plead to it.
Phosa’s senior counsel, Mike Maritz, also warned that Khoza’s evidence was defamatory.
Khoza was seen sobbing outside the court after testifying against Phosa. Phosa paid for her education and helped her establish a foundation in memory of her mother.
“She’s still young, I forgive her,” Phosa said when asked to confirm that he offered financial help to Khoza.
Judgment on this case has been reserved.
DOUBLE TROUBLE Premier David Mabuza (left) said in court this week that a letter ‘leaked’ by former ANC treasurer-general Mathews Phosa claiming that Mabuza was an apartheid spy was forged