How Guptas tried to capture Vytjie Mentor
From her controversial trip to China to the Saxonwold mansion, ex-ANC MP describes how a play was made for her allegiance
Former ANC MP Vytjie Mentor detailed how members of the controversial Gupta family allegedly tried to capture her allegiance in exchange for a cabinet post, when she started testifying at the State Capture Inquiry on Monday.What began as an introduction on a flight to China ended within the family’s Saxonwold mansion where she was allegedly offered the job of public enterprises minister in exchange for cancelling South African Airways’ routes to India.
Implicated in the plot were the Gupta brothers Ajay, Atul and Rajesh, former president Jacob Zuma and his son, Duduzane.
Mentor was giving evidence before Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo’s commission of inquiry.
Mentor was visibly emotional when taking an oath of sworn testimony, her voice breaking subtly as she vowed to tell the truth. Afterwards, she was seen wiping her eyes.
Mentor began her testimony with an account of what transpired on her controversial trip to China during a state visit in 2010 when she chaired the portfolio committee on public enterprises. Mentor had approached Transnet to fund her trip (which came with a R155,000 price tag) to an investment summit between SA and China – a flouting of parliamentary procedure. This was eventually seen as the reason she lost her position.
But it was on that trip that Mentor says she became the target of the Guptas’ alleged state capture plot.
Mentor claimed that on board the August flight there was a knock on her cubicle. According to her, the man who introduced himself was Duduzane Zuma, who is believed to be at the centre of state capture allegations. Mentor said he was accompanied by two “Indian-looking” men, one of whom she later identified as Rajesh Gupta.She paused, taking deep breaths, as she tried to recall the conversation.
“He (Duduzane) later also requested if he could go and introduce me to another person ... the other man he took me to was a black man, an African man,” she said. She said the man was controversial South African businessman Fana Hlongwane.
However, there was a sense of confusion around her statement, with some in the public gallery shaking their heads.
Mentor admitted more than twice during her testimony that she mixes up Hlongwane’s name with Brian Hlongwa – the former Gauteng health MEC – who she initially named in her 2017 book as the man who she met on the flight.It would not be the last time, however, that she would meet Rajesh on the China trip.
“Because I was late (to collect accreditation for the summit), the hall was filled with people moving around. I looked around and I spotted the gentleman (Rajesh Gupta) that [Duduzane Zuma] had introduced to me on the flight to China. He led me to a table where I was accredited,” she said.
Later, in her hotel room, she received a peculiar call.
“My room phone rang and a lady from reception informed me that people were asking for my room number and would like to talk to me ... The person on the telephone identified himself as a Gupta ... He may have said his name, what stuck to my mind was the surname. He told me that he was sent by [Jacob Zuma] to fetch me to drive me to meet Zuma at the Chinese state guesthouse where he was put up, and he told me the president would like to meet me before he heads to the state banquet,” Mentor alleged.
Mentor said she refused to travel with strangers in a foreign country and had feared for her safety.
“He (the Gupta brother) became a little bit aggressive in tone and at one point he said he was going to call the president and tell the president I am refusing to meet with him ... I was not going to go to President Zuma who had then a reputation with women. I cannot go and hand myself to a man who has a reputation with women on a silver platter,” she said.
She cut her trip short and returned to SA soon afterwards.
Mentor claims that shortly after her return, she received a call from one of Zuma’s most trusted advisers, Lakela Kaunda, informing her that a request to meet the president – which Mentor had been trying to arrange for some time to discuss the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor – had been successful.The next day, Mentor claims she was flown to Johannesburg and escorted by Rajesh Gupta to the family’s Sahara Computers office where she met his eldest brother, Ajay. After a short conversation, which Mentor went to great lengths to recall, explaining how Ajay had asked about her son and other members of her family, she was taken to the family’s luxury residence in Saxonwold.
Much to the amusement of some in the public gallery, Mentor described the furniture, the extravagant fittings, toiletries in the lavatory, and her dislike of the curried mutton dish she was served for lunch.
It was at the house that Mentor claims Ajay Gupta proposed the cabinet post.
“He said SAA burns money. He suggested I facilitate the abolition of the Johannesburg SAA route. It is Johannesburg to Mumbai to Johannesburg ... He said if I agree to facilitate its abolition I could become a minister. He said the president is going to reshuffle his cabinet in the near future and minister Barbara Hogan is going to be reshuffled and I could become the minister in her place,” she alleged.
“I asked him how would this happen. He said that they could put a word in for me with the president.”
Time ran out at that point and the commission had to attend to another matter before it drew to a close.
Mentor will continue her testimony at 10am on Tuesday.