JOHANNESBURG, March 22 – African National Congress (ANC) head of campaigns Fikile Mbalula on Friday described his visit at the Guptas’ Saxonwold compound where he was served “lots of curry”, saying that he stood his ground and would not be manipulated by the controversial family.
Mbalula said the Guptas targeted him after he raised concerns about the Guptas and their far reaching influence during an ANC national executive committee (NEC) meeting in August 2011. He testified that he had three encounters with Ajay Gupta when he was sports minister — first at their Sahara Computers offices in Midrand, at the Saxonwold compound and at the Wanderers cricket stadium.
“He offered me some curry there [at Saxowold] before we could talk. I think it’s their culture that before you talk to them, you eat curry. This thing that you see in the public domain that people ate curry there is not a joke. It’s true, you eat curry there…” said Mbalula.
“He [Ajay] then gave me a good lecture about how most of the things I was eating there came from their farm, in Midrand…that everything they eat is not from the shop, it’s produced from their farm. I didn’t even know they got a farm.”
“So you had a vegetarian curry on that day?” evidence leader Leah Gcabashe asked Mbalula.
Mbalula replied: “Yes. I don’t like curry but I had to eat it … more curry, curry, curry. But that curry never finished me. I stood firm.”
In targeting Mbalula, he said the Guptas, through their now defunct newspaper The New Age, reported that he used public funds to pay for now Economic Freedom Fighters’ (EFF) leader Julius Malema’s trip to the Olympic Games in London in 2012. The Press Ombudsman found that the story did not meet the Press Code requirements and instructed the newspaper to apologise to Mbalula.
“I met with Ajay over what I said at the NEC…they were campaigning hard against me. He [Ajay] did not deny anything. I think he probably wanted to say to me ‘you should not have said that’.”
His transcripts with former public protector Thuli Madonsela were scrutinised by Gcabashe, who raised contradictory statements in Mbalula’s account to Madonsela in 2016 and his evidence before the commission.
Mbalula did not tell Madonsela about Ajay’s phone call telling him he will be appointed sports minister.
Commission chairman Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo asked him why he did not disclose Ajay’s conversation to the former public protector.
Mbalula defended his statement, saying he was replying to a question at the time about who appointed him as sports minister, and that the questions did not relate to his comments at the ANC NEC. He said he received a call from Ajay, but the actual appointment was made by former president Jacob Zuma.
“Were you invited to the Gupta family wedding in Sun City in 2013?” Gcabashe asked Mbalula.
He replied: “Yes, I was invited, but I did not attend.”
Gcabashe asked: “Any invites on the other events such as the Diwali festival?”
Mbalula responded saying: “That too. I received invitations but never went.” (ANA)