Three readings of the Motlanthe story

Jeremy Gordin assesses the Sunday Times allegations against the DP and his partner

I've been humming that 1985 Mark Knopfler line, "money for nothing and chicks for free" ever since reading the (local) Sunday Times' lead story, "‘Nothing for mahala'," on Sunday morning (see here). Actually it turns out it's a Knopfler and Sting line; they wrote the song together on Montserrat.

I would guess, however, that deputy-president Kgalema Motlanthe - the Sunday story was about him and his "partner," Gugu Mtshali - have not been humming or singing, even if they're in some place as pleasant as Montserrat.

On the contrary, they have probably been involved in what my Latin teacher at Brakpan High, Mrs. Ann Hudson, would have called "a wailing and a gnashing of teeth."

Here are some musings on the three possible ways of reading the story. Let's call them "Alpha", "Bravo" and "Charlie".


Some bright sparks (let's call them the Oberholzer brothers), owners of an aviation company, discover that there's big boodle - serious dineros, large amounts of latkes -to be made by supplying Iran with American-made helicopters and their parts, not to mention three airliners.

Problem: there're UN sanctions against supplying the dastardly Persians with such stuff because, inter alia, they allegedly want to blast the so-called Middle East (including especially my tribe) to kingdom come with a nuclear device.

"No sweat," says this oke they know from around (let's call him Masebelanga), "I know this oke who knows this other oke who works for this dame, a business person, and she's playing let's slip the big chiluga with the deputy sheriff.

"What's more, my friends," says this Masebelanga fellow, lighting a cigar purchased from Croft's in Parkview, "those good ol' romantics, the ANC, think those bloodthirsty bearded nutters, those mad mullahs, are actually sweethearts in disguise, and there's a push, would you believe it, to give the Americans one straight up their rectitude, while simultaneously expanding investment relations, heh, heh, with the glorious Islamic Republic of Iran. We've got no time for squeaky little college boys like Obama.

"And, because of this attitude, my brothers, we can do this thing above board. No skullduggery. We get an official letter from the Department of trade and Industry. How do you like them apples? Or rather: how do you like them rotor blades? But, first, I'd like to you meet the DP. Don't talk business or technical details with him - that's not his forte. Just meet and greet him, my brothers, just meet and greet."

And so it comes to pass.

The deputy president's partner, the not-too-shabby-looking Gugu, says: "Darling, I'm putting together one of my business deals with some fellows. Bit of trade, aviation parts or something, with Iran. Nothing to be worried about. Meet these guys, boertjie business types - it'll be a bit boring, but we'll have them over for a drink. And then if you'll just have a quick word with that rather solemn white boy you were in the struggle with - Rob is it? - at the DTI, I'd be so pleased."

Later, Gugu and her two "associates" sit down with the Oberholzers and they bat out what is actually quite a common or garden variety deal ...

The Gugu camp has introduced the Oberholzers to the DP and have arranged for a letter from the DTI. So: what is to be their share? Well, having had a look at the amounts involved and the potential for future growth and so on and so forth, ten million rand as a service fee and R94-million as a profit share would be good.  

...I like the above version. It makes sense to me. I've heard from very good sources that the DP, though not highly sophisticated or shrewd, is a humble, straight man with a good sense of humour - and there's no reason why he would interfere too much in Gugu's business but also no reason why he would not assist her here and there. Why not? Isn't that what partners are for?


Deputy-president Motlanthe knows all about the deal; he knows all the details; and is well aware therefore that he will be partaking in his share of the 104-mil.

... Nah, I don't think so. I might be wrong - I have been wrong more times than I've changed my socks (I'm the guy who thought Jackie Selebi was straight-ish) - but Motlanthe being a knowing part of an aviation deal with Iran doesn't feel right to me.


The whole story is a fabrication: the Sunday Times investigation team was sold a pup. It could be; it could be. Mangaung is only nine months away. It's the kind of "disinformation" - or rather full-on "misinformation" - that Moe Shaik and a few others tried to hang on Bulelani Ngcuka (the Hefer Commission - "Ngcuka was an apartheid spy") when Ngcuka was National Director of Public Prosecutions and baying for Jacob Zuma's blood. And the Shaiks largely succeeded in their aim, which was to destroy Ngcuka as NDPP and to undermine his boss, Thabo Mbeki.

I have heard a persuasive argument, never mind from whom, that the ST investigation team's recent revelations about a police death squad in KwaZulu-Natal was a story fed to them to draw attention away from one of the matters that this particular squad was investigating: a massive slush fund allegedly being used by senior policemen all the way up to ministerial level. I am merely telling you what I have heard.

Couldn't the Motlanthe/Gugu story also have been slipped to the team to end Motlanthe's political career once and for all?

In this connection, one thing we don't know yet is why the Oberholzers have sung like proverbial canaries. According to them, the deal ultimately never went through anyway and the money was never paid to Gugu Mtshali and her "associates."

Why trash Motlanthe and Mtshali now? Who gave this story to the ST and why? Mostly, you have, in these matters, to follow the money. But sometimes you have to follow the ANC's five-yearly conferences.

How to explain Motlanthe's odd reaction to the publication of the story? Why ask the Public Protector (PP), Thuli Madonsela, of all people and institutions, "to investigate allegations made against him and his partner, Ms Gugu Mtshali"?

If the deputy-president is affronted by the newspaper article, if it's inaccurate and defamatory, if he's so certain of this, well then, go to the press ombudsman or the press council (or however the chain operates, I forget), and make certain the apology is on page one. Or sue the sweet folk at Avusa, which owns the Sunday Times, for defamation. The government will pay the legal fees.

Madonsela's job is to protect the likes of you and me, not folk in the government. The PP's Constitutional Mandate, according to the internet, "is to strengthen constitutional democracy by investigating and redressing improper and prejudicial conduct, maladministration and abuse of power in all state affairs ..."

The small print does go on to say that PP can also investigate (alleged, presumably) "violations of the Executive members Ethics Act of 1994" and "government at any level" and so on. But that implies that the wrong-doing is being perpetrated by the person in government. I remember that once Jacob G Zuma once went to shelter under the wings of the PP. But Zuma was at that time defrocked, as it were; Motlanthe is the deputy-president.

Motlanthe could have been given bad advice; there's a lot of that to be had at the Union buildings. But until Motlanthe explains better, it seems me that version Alpha is, alas, the most likely one of all.

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