Ithala boss: wife linked to donor
SIPHO Shabalala, former head of the provincial treasury and current head of state-owned Ithala bank, has admitted that his wife Ntombi had a company with a flamboyant businessman, Gaston Savoi who secured a R44.5 million tender from the state.
Last week the Tribune revealed that Shabalala allegedly solicited a R1m donation for the ANC from Gaston Savoi, after Savoi’s company Intaka won the tender to supply water purification plants to government hospitals.
Savoi admitted that he had paid a donation which the ANC said it received.
Shabalala, who told the Tribune he was a member of the ANC, acknowledged that he was aware of a police investigation into the donation, but emphatically denied any wrongdoing.
In response to our story, the ANC at first said donations were accepted in good faith without any promise of financial returns.
Later, however, senior party members refused to be drawn on the issue or to respond to the Tribune enquiries.
Peggie Nkonyeni, the ANC treasurer in KwaZulu-Natal declined to comment. Asked about reports that ANC computers had been seized as part of the police investigation, she said: “I won’t be able to say anything about that.
“We are commenting on this matter through Sihle Zikalala (ANC provincial secretary).”
Zikalala said the ANC had received the money. He said he was unaware of ANC computers being seized as part of the police investigations.
The Tribune wanted to ask the ANC why the R1m donation allegedly solicited by Shabalala was paid to the party through a Durban law firm. One of the charges the police are investigating is money laundering.
This week more information about the story was leaked to the Tribune, including a three-page document apparently indicating that Shabalala’s wife Ntombi and Savoi were in business together.
Documents supplied to the newspaper indicated that Ntombi and Savoi were partners in companies named “Skyros” and “Mpisi Trading”, dating back to 2004. Savoi’s R44.5m tender to supply water purification plants was wrapped up in 2007.
Yesterday in response to the Tribune’s questions Shabalala said: “A while ago Savoi wanted to partner with my wife in a food supplements venture. The understanding was that the business would primarily supply supermarkets. As soon as it became apparent that they were also going to pursue tenders, my wife felt uncomfortable with the proposition and subsequently decided not to continue with the business relationship.”
Shabalala said his wife’s business venture with Savoi “never traded, not for a single day”.
Asked about his business interests, Shabalala said: “My wife and I own a farm outside Pietermaritzburg, a restaurant in Hillcrest, as well as the City Royal Hotel in Pietermaritzburg.”
Shabalala said the hotel was sometimes used by government departments, although while he was head of treasury he instructed his department not to use the facility. Subsequently he learned from the auditor-general that departments could use the hotel, Shabalala said.
This week the DA leader in the KwaZulu-Natal legislature, John Steenhuisen, called for Shabalala’s suspension until investigations were complete.
“There appear to have been some dubious goings-on. We will call for the law society to probe the law firm that channelled the money to the ANC.”
Steenhuisen said there were “many coincidences” surrounding the tender to Savoi, Shabalala’s business interests, and the donation to the ANC.
“Mr Shabalala needs to be suspended until these allegations are dealt with. I don’t believe he is in a position to remain the head of a development bank that is desperately trying to shake its image as the piggy bank of the political elite.
“I also question how much he can concentrate on his taxpayer-funded job at Ithala with his outside business interests.”
Steenhuisen referred to a report released by the provincial auditor-general, Herman van Zyl, which showed that 916 KwaZulu-Natal government employees did business with the state, amounting to R134m between April 2005 and March 2007.
The Standing Committee on Public Accounts said this week that the names and ranks of the officials involved had to be made public.
Shabalala told the Tribune: “I have always, in and out of government, been ethical in my business dealings and avoided any perception of a conflict of interest.”
Shabalala was asked how long he had been an ANC member and if he had ever been a member of the IFP.
“I am a member of the ANC, however I do not wish to discuss my political life as I am not an elected member. I am a simple card-carrying member of the ANC,” he said.