Publication: Mail and Guardian
Reporter: Stefaans Brümmer
Reporter: Monako Dibetle
Reporter: African Eye News Service
Zuma's spin doctor in 'bribery scandal'
Mail and Guardian
African Eye News Service
Former City Press editor Vusi Mona, whose appointment as acting
communications head in the presidency was announced this week, is mired in a
bribery scandal playing out in an Mpumalanga court.
Mona is controversial for publishing spying allegations against former national
director of public prosecutions Bulelani Ngcuka and for allegedly breaking the
off-the-record rule to reveal details of a briefing by Ngcuka regarding
then-deputy president Jacob Zuma.
Mona’s actions against Ngcuka may have recommended him to his new boss, but his
appointment while the Mpumalanga matter remains unresolved flies in the face of
Zuma’s recurrent anti-corruption rhetoric. Mona is implicated in the payment of
substantial kickbacks to Stanley Soko, then-director general of Mpumalanga, and
Ernest Khoza, then-chief executive of the Mpumalanga Economic Empowerment
Corporation, six years ago.
The alleged payments followed the provincial government’s 2003 award of a
R32-million public relations contract to a consortium in which Mona had an
interest. Soko and Khoza are currently on trial in the Nelspruit Regional Court.
They have pleaded not guilty to charges including corruption and fraud.
Although Mona has not been charged, his alleged role in the bribery scheme has
been detailed in the charge sheet against Soko and Khoza and in testimony by
Moss Mashamaite, Mona’s partner in the public relations venture.
The presidency this week said that Mona denied he was “part of any bribery or
chain of events leading to the alleged bribery”.
Mona’s rise in journalism was meteoric. The rookie founding editor of
Mail & Guardian sister publication the Teacher in 1996, he was
appointed City Press editor in 2000.
He first courted controversy after Ngcuka briefed editors in July 2003 about
criminal investigations into Zuma and Mac Maharaj, allegedly saying he would
convict Zuma “in the court of public opinion”. Mona circulated details although
the briefing was allegedly off the record.
Six weeks later Mona published a story, later the subject of the Hefer
Commission of Inquiry, saying Ngcuka had probably been an apartheid spy. The
story was brought to City Press by then-reporter Ranjeni Munusamy, whose
own publication, the Sunday Times, had refused to run it.
The Hefer commission later trashed the story and Mona, saying in its final
report that Mona “was forced to make one damning concession after the other” and
that “his credibility had been reduced to nil”.
Mona left City Press in late 2003 following a conflict-of-interest
investigation by his employer, Media24, into his undeclared participation in the
Rainbow Kwanda Communications consortium, which won the Mpumalanga PR contract.
Although Mona’s departure from City Press attracted much publicity,
his role in the sequel -- the alleged kickbacks paid on the Mpumalanga contract
-- has not.
According to the charge sheet against Soko and Khoza, Mashamaite registered Zan
Moss Technologies in 2001. Mona “requested to join” the company, which traded as
Rainbow Communications. Mona was not formally registered as a member, but had a
“profit share of 50%”.
In January 2003 the Mpumalanga government issued a tender for PR services.
“Mashamaite and Mona formed a consortium of three companies”, Rainbow Kwanda
Communications, to bid.
In June “Mashamaite was invited to a meeting at the home of Accused 1 [Khoza].
Upon arrival he found Mona already there and Accused 2 [Soko] joined them later.
[Soko] was presented as the person without whom they wouldn’t have been able to
secure the contract.
“In this meeting [Khoza] informed Mashamaite and Mona that he and [Soto] had to
be rewarded for the key roles they played in securing the contract ... They
wanted R1-million each … The parties then all agreed thereto.”
The charge sheet details numerous alleged payments, sometimes in cash and
sometimes through a front person, to Soko and Khoza between August 2003 and
April 2004. The payments totalled roughly R1-million.
Although Mashamaite -- who has confessed and is a key prosecution witness --
physically made the payments, the charge sheet claims Mona remained involved.
At one stage Mona allegedly “put pressure on Mashamaite to pay the bribe money”.
At another “Mona informed Mashamaite that [Soko] wanted to be paid R100 000 per
month. Mashamaite agreed with Mona on R65 000.”
After Mona left City Press, the charge sheet states he “started taking
more of an interest in the day-to-day running of the business. After they
realised the losses they were incurring were because of the fact that they were
paying these amounts to the accused they took a decision in principle to cease
The contract was terminated during the second half of 2004.
Presidential spokesperson Vincent Magwenya defended Mona’s appointment this
week, saying: “There are no charges against Mr Mona. He is not part of the case
currently running, either as a witness or an accused.
“The state said in court as matter of record that it has no intention to call Mr
Mona as a witness. The defence has also said the same. If he was connected to
this matter he would be a witness or an accused …
“Mr Mona did not co-own the said company at the time it concluded a contract
with the Mpumalanga government. He denies he was part of any bribery or chain of
events leading to the alleged bribery.”
Meanwhile, controversial former Sunday Times journalist
Munusamy has been appointed chief of
communications in Blade Nzimande’s new department of higher education and
Munusamy shot to fame, or notoriety, six years ago when
she handed the Ngcuka spy story to Mona at City Press after her editor at
the Sunday Times, Mthatha Tsedu, refused to publish it.
Munusamy subsequently lost her job at the Sunday Times.
Munusamy said this week her new job primarily entailed helping the department to
draw up a communication strategy.
“The process of splitting departments [higher education from basic education] is
still going on and while that is happening we need to keep them going,” she
Munusamy said that when the process of splitting the departments was finished
all communication posts, including hers, would be advertised.
Staff in the department, however, are reported to be unimpressed with Munusamy’s
Her role in Zuma’s presidential campaign, among other things, has been
Said Munusamy: “I don’t have a problem dealing with journalists. I am also a
trained journalist and all this time I have been involved in work that involves
dealing with journalists. However, my current job does not entail working with
the journalists. The department has appointed an official spokesperson to deal
with the media.”
With acknowledgements to
Stefaans Brümmer, Monako Dibetle, African Eye News
Service and Mail and
Like I said, watch this space.
The next 4 to 8 years are going to be great for some, tough for the rest.