IS THERE CASH IN ZUMA’S NKANDLA BUNKER?
Just as she was about to step into President Jacob Zuma’s bunker – his underground haven at Nkandla – to inspect it as part of her probe into the sprawling homestead, then public protector Thuli Madonsela was abruptly halted, despite receiving earlier permission to enter from ministers in the state security cluster.
Madonsela’s recollection of how people “fought” to stop her at the entrance of the bunker comes from an audio recording – recently obtained by City Press – of the state capture interview she conducted with Julius Malema, leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), in September.
This was the same interview – reported on in last week’s City Press – in which Malema told Madonsela, under oath, that ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe knew the Russians had paid Zuma and the Guptas money in advance to secure the nuclear deal.
Madonsela said she had an earlier agreement with the security cluster ministers that she would be allowed to inspect the bunker. One of the conditions for the agreement had been that she would go into the bunker alone.
She said that on the prearranged date, she and her team arrived in Nkandla and started their work, as agreed. They assumed the bunker would be the last site of inspection.
Madonsela said things took an unexpected turn just as she got to the entrance of the bunker. “So, there was a deal that we would go to the bunker, but the staff would not be allowed to go down – but I would go down.
“We go to Nkandla [and] we look at everything because we just assumed we would end at the bunker. When we were at the mouth of the bunker, suddenly they fought tooth and nail,” she said.
In the recording she goes on to say that, in a later discussion with an unnamed former “editor of a group of newspapers”, she was alerted that the reason her inspection had been frustrated was because the bunker had money in it.
The editor attributed the information to a senior political leader, whose name was known to Madonsela. However, she did not reveal the name. “According to that editor, there was money there. And the reason I am bringing it up is not really to just bring that as a piece of juicy gossip,” she said.
“I have never followed [it up]. If you say they [Zuma and the Guptas] were paid, who was paid? Does anybody know how was the payment done and to whom was it [paid]?” she asked Malema.
He replied that he did not have any details, except for what Mantashe had told him during a secret meeting between Mantashe, Malema and two of his EFF cohorts, held to initiate talks on a possible municipal coalition between their two parties.
Mantashe had allegedly lobbied the EFF to include the scrapping of the nuclear deal as one of the preconditions for working with the ANC, claiming it was unaffordable and would “collapse” the country.
“Thank you, honourable Malema,” said Madonsela as she concluded her questions.
“If you can find any information just from anyone that could help us to follow that money to find out if it was indeed paid (sic). Perhaps I will still also follow up with that guy. He is not the editor of those bunch of papers any more. But he had that information at the time.”
In her final State of Capture report, released earlier this month, Madonsela makes no reference to the nuclear deal or Zuma’s bunker. Last week, Mantashe rejected Malema’s testimony, but the EFF leader defended his version.
Madonsela said this week that she had no knowledge of any recording during her interview with Malema “on a laptop or cellphone, and certainly nothing on video”.
“If such was found, the authenticity cannot be verified. No decision was made by me to release such records, except for the meeting with President Zuma, which is not about evidence but rather whether or not he was asked questions or given a chance to present his version.”
She referred questions to her successor, Busisiwe Mkhwebane. “Kindly ask the new public protector if she knows anything about what purports to be a record of an interview ... in light of her preference to answer all questions about the state capture investigation,” she said.
When we were at the mouth of the bunker, suddenly they fought tooth and nail