An empire built on controversy

2011-06-04 15:23

Tycoon Khulubuse Zuma – under fire over his questionable business ethics in the Aurora empowerment debacle – wheeled and dealed with some of KwaZulu-Natal’s most controversial figures as he built his business ­empire.

They include his cousin, Mandla Gcaba, a millionaire KwaZulu-Natal taxi boss who once stood trial for allegedly hiring a gang of ­hitmen to avenge his brother’s murder, and Senzo Mfayela, a former IFP Member of Parliament who has come under scrutiny over a controversial multibillion rand housing project.

This week Khulubuse, who is ­President Jacob Zuma’s nephew, and his fellow Aurora directors were unceremoniously booted out of the Orkney and Grootvlei mines they took over in the infamous Pamodzi Gold liquidation.

They have been accused of stripping the mines of their assets and causing ­financial hardship to thousands of mineworkers.

Mfayela, who along with Khulubuse was listed as a director of a now-defunct company, Uxolo Investments, in 2001, is currently mired in controversy over a R2.1 billion housing contract near Pietermaritzburg.

Opposition parties have questioned why the contract, which was brokered directly with ­chiefs of the Vulindlela traditional council, was never put out to tender.

George Mari , a DA member of the provincial ­legislature, this week said he had formally asked the speaker of the provincial legislature to launch an investigation into the housing deal.

Mari said: “We are worried that a project of this magnitude never went to an open tender. We are also worried that the people involved seem to be politically connected.”

But Mfayela has denied using his political connections to obtain the deal.

He said: “We have not even once used our political influence to get any tenders. Those that have been criticising the Vulindlela contract have no idea what they are talking about because our capacity shows that we can deliver.”

Mfayela claimed his business dealings with Khulubuse ­never got off the ground.

“Khulubuse had this idea of a BEE transport company to explore opportunities of unbundling at Transnet as well as in providing ­services for underserviced communities,” he said.

Mfayela had also been in the news in recent years when he was among the people accused of “gross ­political manipulation” in obtaining a ­lucrative contract from the KwaZulu-Natal Gambling Board to install computer equipment for the ­gaming ­industry.

The matter was settled out of court in 2009.

Perhaps the most controversial individual Khulubuse has done business with is his cousin, Gcaba, a man described in a Sunday Times report as one of the “untouchable dons of the dangerous South ­African minibus taxi industry”.

Khulubuse and Gcaba have shared ­directorships in five ­companies.

Gcaba’s position has come at a price. In February 1996 his father, Simon, was shot dead, sparking a bloody taxi war in KwaZulu-Natal. In October that year Gcaba himself was shot four times.

A year after his father’s murder Gcaba’s brother, Moses, was also gunned down.

During the 1998 ­trial of the men accused of the murder a hit team stormed the Durban Supreme Court in a bid to kill them.

The ­attempted hit was foiled but three people, including a police officer, were shot dead.

Gcaba, who was charged with ­arranging the hit, was acquitted ­after the disappearance of a key witness, S’bu Mpisane, a metro ­police constable whose BMW was ­allegedly used as the hitmen’s ­getaway car.

Mpisane, who later emerged from hiding and had a spectacularly fast rise as a politically ­connected millionaire, counts police commissioner General Bheki Cele among his friends.

Mpisane’s wife, Shauwn, who has previously been convicted of tax fraud, was arrested again this week on charges of fraud, forgery and uttering involving at least R2.5 million and released on R50 000 bail.

In 2009 Gcaba was again embroiled in controversy, this time over his involvement in a R300 million deal to run Durban’s troubled metro bus fleet. The deal was awarded without going to ­tender.

Gcaba has steadfastly refused to discuss his relationship with President Jacob Zuma and his ties with ­Mpisane.

Attempts to obtain comment from Khulubuse and Gcaba this week were ­unsuccessful.

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