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Lucky Montana’s ANC bombshell – Zweli Mkhize supplied bank details to Prasa ‘tall trains’ beneficiary

Daily Maverick logo Daily Maverick 2020-11-08 Pieter-Louis Myburgh for Scorpio
Zweli Mkhize wearing a suit and tie smiling at the camera © Copyright (c) Daily Maverick , All Rights Reserved

Former Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa) boss Lucky Montana has made startling and detailed claims about alleged financial dealings involving the ANC, its former treasurer-general, Zweli Mkhize, and Maria Gomes, an Angolan businesswoman who in 2013 and 2014 secured a R40-million slice of Prasa’s infamous R3.5-billion “tall trains” contract. 

In an exclusive interview with Scorpio, Montana has alleged that he and Mkhize regularly met with Gomes at her and her husband’s house in Johannesburg in the period after Prasa had awarded the controversial locomotives contract to Swifambo Rail Leasing. 

One of Gomes’ companies, Similex, had received about R40-million from Swifambo. 

Mkhize, who was the ANC’s treasurer-general at the time of the purported meetings, allegedly provided Gomes with details of bank accounts into which she was asked to deposit money for the benefit of the governing party.

“On a few occasions, Maria Gomes rose from her chair, left us in her lounge or patio, to go to the small office at the house to do electronic transfers to accounts provided by Dr Mkhize,” Montana alleged.

He also claimed that Gomes and her husband were key cogs in the ANC’s fundraising machinery.

We made multiple attempts to obtain comment from Mkhize and the ANC before publication, but they ignored our queries.

In 2018, during his appearance at a parliamentary inquiry, Montana briefly mentioned Mkhize’s alleged meetings with Gomes.  But the details regarding the former ANC treasurer-general’s alleged financial dealings with the Angolan businesswoman have remained under wraps until now.

Montana says he intends to place an account of “interactions between [himself], former ANC treasurer-general, Dr Zweli Mkhize, Maria Gomes and her husband” before the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture.

“Dr Zweli Mkhize was central to these interactions from 2013, months after his election as ANC treasurer-general in December 2012 in Mangaung. I was present in some if not most of the meetings [with Gomes] at the Atholl [a suburb in Sandton, Johannesburg] house,” Montana told Scorpio.

[caption id="attachment_760198" align="aligncenter" width="647"] a person wearing a hat © Provided by Daily Maverick Angolan businesswoman Maria Gomes. (Photo: supplied)[/caption]

The former Prasa boss, however, does not believe the payments allegedly made for the ANC’s benefit were kickbacks or that such transfers were related to the locomotives contract.

He says he had spoken to Gomes and Swifambo’s director, Auswell Mashaba, who assured him that the alleged payments were merely personal donations to the governing party and that their alleged contributions were not connected to the train deal. 

Such assurances, however, would be at odds with a range of financial records for Mashaba’s companies that show how “donations” to third parties like Gomes were bankrolled with the proceeds of the massive locomotives contract.

This reporter has previously revealed that Mashaba had made payments amounting to R40-million to Similex, a company Gomes and her husband had established only two months before Prasa started transferring hundreds of millions of rands to Swifambo. Swifambo, in turn, distributed large amounts of money to Similex and other third parties after it got paid by Prasa.

The meetings Montana and Mkhize allegedly had at the Gomes residence would have occurred around the same time that Similex secured its portion of the Prasa locomotives deal’s proceeds, at least according to Montana’s version of events.

“Dr Zweli Mkhize would come to the Atholl house and provide ANC funding requirements, including payments to creditors that were providing various services to the ANC. I was present in these meetings,” Montana told Scorpio.

“On other occasions, Dr Mkhize would claim he needed funds urgently for party activities. Dr Zweli Mkhize provided bank accounts to Maria Gomes in which funds had to be transferred.” 

Gomes made some of the transfers to the accounts Mkhize had allegedly nominated while Montana and Mkhize were still at her house, according to the former Prasa boss.   

Montana claimed Mkhize once brought his wife along for one such meeting.

“Of course, there was one instance when Dr Zweli had brought his wife, Dr May Mkhize, to the house in Atholl. I arrived at the house to find them in a meeting with Maria Gomes. I did not join the meeting because I came for a specific meeting with Maria Gomes,” he claimed.

Scorpio phoned May Mkhize in an attempt to verify whether this had been the case. 

She said she did not have a comment on the matter. 

We expressly asked her if she denied that she and her husband had attended meetings at the Gomes residence.

“Pieter, I said no comment. I don’t have a comment,” Mkhize responded.

[caption id="attachment_760200" align="aligncenter" width="640"] Zweli Mkhize et al. standing next to a person in a suit and tie © Provided by Daily Maverick Dr Zweli Mkhize, Dr May Mkhize and then president Jacob Zuma at a government function in 2013. (Photo: GCIS)[/caption]

Scorpio also went to great lengths to obtain comment from Dr Zweli Mkhize and the ANC, but they have seemingly gone to ground. 

Mkhize did not respond to a series of messages sent via several messaging platforms, including WhatsApp. Our messages included detailed queries about his alleged interactions with Gomes. We also tried to call Mkhize, but he did not answer his phone. 

An attempt to source his input through his spokesperson at the department of health, Lwazi Manzi, also proved futile.

“I have been advised that I am the wrong channel to manage queries related to party issues. The ANC does have a spokesperson, please do send your queries to him and he will manage with the party members concerned,” said Manzi.

Scorpio reached out to Pule Mabe, the ANC’s spokesperson, but to no avail.

“Morning, couldn’t get much last night. Will follow up this morning and if we get anything will definitely share,” Mabe said in his last WhatsApp message. He did not share the party’s or Mkhize’s response by the time of publication. 

Gomes and her husband appear to have left South Africa and could not be reached on their local phone lines.

‘They belonged to the ANC’

Rapport and City Press first published details of the payments Mashaba had made to Gomes’ company, Similex, in January 2016. That news report detailed how Gomes’ neighbours at the same Atholl property regularly saw then president Jacob Zuma and his blue-lights convoy outside the house.

At the time, Gomes stated that she and Zuma were “like family”. She claimed that Similex had been paid for work it performed for Swifambo on the Prasa deal, but she could not provide specifics.

Mashaba told investigators probing the locomotives contract that he’d been instructed by Gomes to make payments to Similex and to George Sabelo, a lawyer with business links to one of Zuma’s sons. In all, the payments came to about R80-million and were said to have been for the benefit of “the movement”. Mashaba later denied that he had made such claims to the investigators.

Montana’s latest claims paint Gomes and her husband as financial operators who’d been roped in by the ANC specifically for fundraising purposes. 

“Personally, I met Maria and Carlos [Domingos] Gomes in late 2012 at a meeting I attended, which focused on fundraising activities for the ANC leading up to the 2014 elections. I was told the ANC had identified me to assist in ANC fundraising efforts towards the 2014 elections,” Montana told us.

[caption id="attachment_760199" align="aligncenter" width="2000"] Zweli Mkhize et al. sitting and looking at the camera © Provided by Daily Maverick Jacob Zuma, Dr Zweli Mkhize and Cyril Ramaphosa at the ANC’s 2017 National Conference in Nasrec, Johannesburg. (Photo: Gallo Images / Netwerk24 / Deaan Vivier)[/caption]

He said Gomes and her husband had “played a major role [in] fundraising for the ANC inside and outside the country leading to the 2014 national and provincial elections”.

Montana said he was perturbed by the manner in which Gomes had been portrayed in media reports, especially after former Prasa chairperson Popo Molefe in August 2016 highlighted her alleged role as a back-channel fundraiser for the governing party. Molefe’s claims, filed in Prasa’s successful court bid to have the locomotives contract set aside, were met with strong denials from the ANC. 

“I became friends with Maria and Carlos Gomes. I travelled with them to the ANC January 8 celebrations in Mbombela in January 2014. They were businesspeople that worked for and with the ANC, especially its treasurer-general. They did not belong to Jacob Zuma but to the ANC.”

By the time Molefe’s affidavit surfaced, Montana had already left Prasa, but he said he had “taken steps to verify the facts on this matter after the ANC issued a media statement distancing itself from this matter and [claimed] that it did not receive any donation from Swifambo”.

“Technically, the ANC was right because it did not receive any money from Swifambo. Morally, however, the ANC was wrong, and was being dishonest to the country. The statement was meant to portray the lie that the ANC was not a recipient of money from [a]  ‘corrupt’ tender. 

“However, the ANC failed to disclose the full facts and details of the involvement of its treasurer-general in some of the fundraising activities with Maria and Carlos Gomes, and that the ANC may have benefited from some of the money from Auswell Mashaba, albeit in an indirect manner. The ANC response failed the true test of accountability and transparency,” said Montana.

In 2016, the former Prasa boss allegedly also scheduled another meeting with Mkhize in an attempt to determine what had become of the alleged R80-million “donation”.

“In the meeting, he [Mkhize] confirmed receiving some of the funds but not the full R80-million referred to in the media,” Montana told Scorpio.

‘No graft’

Montana was adamant that Gomes’ alleged payments to the ANC were not corrupt. He believes the alleged donations were not related to the locomotives contract. 

“Auswell Mashaba had informed me that he was making a contribution, in his personal capacity, to the ANC. He was not seeking my approval because this was not a Prasa matter and such contributions were long after Swifambo had been awarded the contract by Prasa. I also did not know the nature and extent of his contribution to the ANC until I read the affidavit deposed to by Popo Molefe in 2016,” said Montana.

“In September 2016, I had also travelled to the Inno Trans [an international rail exhibition] in Berlin via London. I met with Maria Gomes in London and asked her questions about the Swifambo donation. She made it clear that she had a deal with Auswell Mashaba, who was desirous of promoting his locomotive business in Angola and Africa as a whole and Maria Gomes will facilitate this and provide services to him. 

“She indicated that the money she received had nothing to do with the Prasa locomotive contract because she was never involved in the tender.

“She, however, confirmed that she supported the ANC and had made payments to the ANC [and] to accounts provided to her by Dr Zweli Mkhize.” 

Despite two scathing court judgements, and notwithstanding his latest claims regarding Mkhize’s alleged dealings with Gomes, Montana reiterated that the Swifambo contract had been above board.

“The courts allowed themselves to be misled and had used, in their judgments, strong words not based on solid evidence.

“The ANC was not involved in the tender process for the acquisition of modern locomotives, nor did it use its position to pressure me, the board or any of our officials to award the tender to Swifambo Rail Leasing in 2012,” said Montana.

But, in the same breath, Montana appears to accept that the alleged financial dealings at Gomes’ house may not necessarily be in line with current best practice.

“If the ANC has now taken the decision to make a ‘decisive break’ with the way it was doing things, this should be welcomed. I assume this is also necessitated by the new law governing the funding of political parties.

“However, the ANC cannot protect itself, throw some of us under the bus and not own up to how it used to fundraise in the past, how its leaders engaged in business for personal gain and, I repeat, that some may have defrauded the organisation itself in the process,” said Montana. DM

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