A tenderpreneur's lament

Andrew Donaldson on Nombasa Ntsondwa-Ndhlovu's allegations against Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula


STRANGE as it may seem, but Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula’s current spot of bother reminds me of Charles Dickens’s boundlessly optimistic character, Wilkins Micawber. Perhaps this is due to an apparently routine matter of balancing household expenses that has resulted in the Speaker being the focus of a “high-level” corruption investigation.

Readers of David Copperfield can attest that Mr Micawber, a former inmate of a debtors’ prison, was forever struggling to make ends meet. As he famously put it: “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds nought and six, result misery.”

The relevant amounts may differ enormously, this no longer being the mid-19th century, but it is precisely this sort of financial squeeze that one Nombasa Ntsondwa-Ndhlovu found herself in as a result of an allegedly corrupt relationship with Mapisa-Nqakula. ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

Ntsondwa-Ndhlovu, the wife of a general in the SANDF’s military health service, has been described in news reports as a “defence industry businesswoman”. It is a line of work that is, by all accounts, rather precarious; doing deals here is a bit like entering a minefield, if I may: pitfalls and setbacks pop up unbidden, and great skill and deftness in the greasing of palms is required before matters reach a satisfactory conclusion. 

In a sworn affidavit with the National Prosecuting Agency’s Investigating Directorate, Ntsondwa-Ndhlovu has detailed how she funnelled more than R2.3 million in cash to Mapisa-Nqakula, then the defence minister, on ten different occasions between November 2016 and July 2019.

The cash was allegedly demanded by Mapisa-Nqakula, initially through the late secretary of defence Sam Gulube and then directly by the minister herself. According to Ntsondwa-Ndhlovu, the money was delivered in gift bags at such venues as Waterkloof military base during an airshow, at OR Tambo airport and at Mapisa-Nqakula’s home in Bruma, Johannesburg.

These bribes, it’s suggested, helped secure lucrative SANDF cargo transporting contracts transporting worth R210 million for Ntsondwa-Ndhlovu’s Umkhombe Marine company. Her marriage to a senior military officer did raise eyebrows at the time, and in 2019 it was reported that the military police were investigating whether Major-General Noel Ndhlovu had played a role in the award of these contracts to his wife’s company. 

But Ntsondwa-Ndhlovu has claimed that her husband was unaware of the cash payments to the minister, and he had expressed disapproval once she had informed him of them. She was subsequently arrested and charged with fraud.

According to the Sunday Times, the case against Ntsondwa-Ndhlovu has now been withdrawn, possibly because she has turned impimpi to avoid prosecution. Investigators do however face certain challenges. As the newspaper noted in an editorial “the payments were allegedly in cash and therefore no proof of transaction exists”.

Mapisa-Nqakula, meanwhile, denies any involvement in alleged corrupt activities pertaining to her tenure as defence minister. 

What does appear entirely credible, though, is Ntsondwa-Ndhlovu’s account of the minister’s grubbing for cash. Anyone who has ever seen a gangster flick will recognise the escalation in demands by crime bosses for this sort of easy money. 

Details of some of these payments were published in the Sunday Times: R300 000 in November 2016; R200 000 in July 2017; R150 000 in November 2017; R250 000 in August 2018; R150 000 in September 2018; R150 000 (in US dollars) also in September 2018; and R300 000 in February 2019.

Matters reached a tipping point in April 2019 when the two met for a R400 000 handover. Ntsondwa-Ndhlovu said that, on this occasion, she had asked how much more money the minister would want from her. 

Mapisa-Nqakula was taken aback by this impudence, and apparently responded that Ntsondwa-Ndhlovu shouldn’t take it personally: “other suppliers who have tenders from her department” had also been asked for contributions.

This was of scant consolation to Ntsondwa-Ndhlovu, who added: “I insisted on her giving me a ballpark figure ... so that I could budget properly, but she did not tell me.”

And therein lay the crux of the biscuit. 

It is difficult enough balancing the books in a time of economic uncertainty. The small treats that the modern defence industry businesswoman was once able to splash out on from time to time — a manicure, a trip to the hairdresser’s, a new Maserati — now seemed increasingly rare. 

Add to the outgoing column the expenses that are the demands of a continually leeching politician and it’s clear that an unwelcome burden has been placed on the budget. 

The threat of Mr Micawber’s misery is now all too obvious.

It’s worth recalling that in April 2021, UDM leader Bantu Holomisa asked Parliament’s joint standing committee to investigate claims by an unnamed whistleblower that Mapisa-Nqakula had received cash and gifts to the value of R5 million from an unnamed SANDF contractor between 2017 and 2019. Ntsondwa-Ndhlovu has now stated that she was that whistleblower. At the time, though, she refused to reveal her identity or submit an affidavit to the committee, claiming that she feared for her life. The committee announced it was dropping its investigation into Mapisa-Nqakula in September 2021.

The dim orange tide

Emboldened by the US Supreme Court’s ruling that he is eligible to stand for presidential election, Donald Trump has wasted no time in setting out his numerous policy plans. The scope of his ambition is vast, possibly dwarfed only by his mounting legal bills, and reportedly includes:

Rounding up illegal immigrants and launching “the largest domestic deportation operation in American history”; ending “birthright citizenship” for children born to undocumented parents; building a “state-of-the-art next-generation missile defence system”; introducing up to ten new “freedom cities” and an “anti-woke university”; the scrapping of all restrictions on fossil fuel production imposed by President Biden to mitigate climate change”; establishing a central credentialing system for teachers to demonstrate their “patriotic values”; the imposition of a “full naval embargo on the drug cartels” and the deployment of “military assets to inflict maximum damage on cartel operations”; and extending the death penalty to drug dealers.

There’s more, of course, like his plan to end the Ukraine war on his first day back in office, which is based on little more than a staggering self-belief in his ability as a negotiator. As he explained in September last year, “I would get [Vladimir Putin] into a room. I’d get [Volodymyr] Zelenskyy into a room. Then I’d bring them together. And I’d have a deal worked out.” And of course he would, in his unhinged dreams…

His plan to shoot shoplifters, though, does seem particularly dangerous. As electioneering bullshit goes, it will certainly appeal to the hard of thinking. However, in a country stuffed with Second Amendment fundamentalists and National Rifle Association nut jobs armed to the teeth, it’s almost guaranteed the shoplifters will shoot back — and with considerable firepower.

Meanwhile, dozens of fake AI images of Trump posing with African-Americans are being spread on social media by his supporters, according to a BBC Panorama investigation. The images appear to have been created by Trump supporters and there is no evidence tying the pictures to Trump’s campaign, the investigation found.

Bizarrely enough, and shortly after winning the New Hampshire primary in January, Trump did share a fake image of himself praying solemnly in a church. Only problem with the picture is that Trump has six fingers on each hand. 

The image was first posted by a user called “Patriot4Life” and was one of many images and memes that Trump has “ReTruthed” on the platform. 

The campaign to Make America Weird Again is now officially underway.

Poop scoop

In his state of the nation address last week, Vladimir Putin warned the West of the risk of nuclear war if they send troops to fight for Ukraine. It is no idle threat. Russia has nukes up to its eyeballs.  In October last year, footage emerged of the Russian tyrant in Beijing accompanied by officers carrying the “nuclear briefcase” with the codes needed to unleash Armageddon on our sorry selves.

However, here at the Slaughtered Lamb (“Finest Ales & Pies”), our attention has been drawn to an item in The Times which pointed to the possible existence of a second briefcase, the contents of which may be more life-threatening than we may care to imagine: this is the one in which Putin’s elite bodyguards store his excrement whenever he travels abroad lest it falls into the hands of foreign agents.

There was, initially, some relief among regulars at the news that Kremlin poopniks have been instructed to guard against such an outcome. There was some opinion that the stuff could be radioactive and hazardous to anyone who handled it, let alone a foreign agent. Some puzzlement, too. Could it be, we wondered, that the Russians had not yet mastered the flushing functions of the common hotel commode?

The story was first reported in June 2022 by investigate reporters with Paris Match. According to Regis Gente, an author of two books on Russia, and Mikhail Rubin, who has covered Russia for over a decade, members of the Federal Protection Services are responsible for collecting Putin’s stools in specialised packets which are then placed in a dedicated briefcase for the journey home where they are presumably destroyed or buried in the permafrost.

This is what apparently happened during Putin’s visit to France in 2017 and his October 2019 trip to Saudi Arabia.

Former BBC journalist Farida Rustamova has confirmed the Paris Match account, but noted on Twitter a slight twist in the arrangement when Putin visited Vienna in 2014. There he had staff set up “a special private bathroom” in his hotel suite and that he had sometimes used a “porta-potty” in the past.

According to Paris Match, these extreme measures were carried out in an attempt to stop foreign powers from gathering information about Putin’s declining health and his various cancers

Our guess, though, is that a rummage in his scat may throw up fresh insights into the mystical powers that come with a diet of raw lizard and vole soup. As it is, there are disturbing reports of bathing in blood extracted from severed deer antlers, a form of alternative therapy said to improve the cardiovascular system and rejuvenate the skin.

It is to be hoped, though, that the two briefcases don’t ever get mixed up. It simply wouldn’t do if, upon a mad impulse to wipe out Sweden (let’s say), one snapped open the case and, instead of pressing the launch button, one’s hand found itself wrist-deep in a recent befoulment. Further irrational behaviour may ensue.