Communications minister Dina Pule has levelled sensational allegations against three of South Africa’s top investigative journalists, but has failed to provide evidence to back up her claims, including that one of the journalists, Mzilikazi wa Afrika, attempted to blackmail her.
Pule told a hastily arranged press conference on Monday, a week before a parliamentary committee begins a detailed investigation into allegations of nepotism and corruption surrounding the ICT Indaba she led in 2012, that the Sunday Times journalists — Wa Afrika, Stephan Hofstatter and Rob Rose — have engaged in a smear campaign against her in an effort to ensure their own business and political connections benefit from the awarding of lucrative tenders.
The tenders in question, Pule said, are for the manufacture of the digital set-top boxes that will be subsidised by the state for millions of television-watching households.
Pule claimed that Wa Afrika, Rose (who now edits Business Times) and Hofstatter are involved with various businesspeople and other “industry role players” and that their articles about her are part of a smear campaign to further these people’s aims.
The minister is accused of nepotism after allegations that her boyfriend, Phosane Mngqibisa, orchestrated the appointment of friends and family to key organisations under her portfolio. It’s also alleged that he benefited from sponsors’ money intended for the ICT Indaba.
Although Pule claimed on Monday that Wa Afrika had attempted to “blackmail” her, she had not reported the matter to the police. She said Wa Afrika had a number of business ties to people and companies vying for set-top box tenders.
She said representatives of these companies suggested they could “prevail upon” Wa Afrika to prevent further stories against her from emerging. They requested a meeting at which Wa Afrika would be present.
The minister alleged that at the meeting, Wa Afrika claimed to have a substantial amount of information that would be damaging to her and offered to keep the information to himself if the minister could offer incriminating evidence against President Jacob Zuma related to a corruption investigation.
TechCentral was not immediately able to reach Wa Afrika for comment.
Pule did not provide proof of these allegations at Monday’s press conference, saying instead that she found it strange that the Sunday Times hadn’t been forced to furnish proof of its allegations but that she was now being called to do so.
Pule said she’d been advised not to release the names of the companies or businessmen she claims were complicit in Wa Afrika’s alleged proposal.
Pule said she would cooperate with parliament’s investigation into her conduct as well as the ongoing investigation by the public protector. “I will, as directed, appear before ethics committee on 2 and 3 May. I will readily avail myself so we can bring finality to these processes.”
She added: “I have never tried to escape scrutiny. Indeed, immediately after the first allegations around the ICT Indaba, I instructed the auditor-general to conduct an investigation. The auditor-general did not find any wrongdoing.”
The minister was unable to offer an explanation for why she had waited until now to make her allegations against Wa Afrika. She also did not answer questions about whether the companies she claimed were involved with Wa Afrika would be blacklisted from future tender processes. — (c) 2013 NewsCentral Media