Mabuza went to Russia for 'routine check-up', says office

Deputy President David Mabuza. Photo: Morapedi Mashashe

A routine medical check-up was behind Deputy President David Mabuza's recent trip to Russia, his office said on Sunday.

"To characterise his routine medical check-up as secretive and drawn-out is just clutching at straws," his spokesperson Thami Ngwenya told News24. 

"The deputy president went to Russia for a routine medical check from the doctors who treated him when he was ill… This has nothing to do with trusting or not trusting South African doctors."

His comments came in the wake of an article by the Sunday Times which reported that Mabuza's Russian trip was for medical care following an alleged poisoning three years ago.

It referred to sources who said Mabuza did not trust South African doctors.

The article also quoted Ngwenya as saying that Mabuza's taking sick leave did not mean that he was necessarily ill.

"It seems to us that it has always been an advisable practice for anyone to utilise doctors who have one's medical history. It is not clear why there is feigned misunderstanding of this basic approach in the case of the deputy president," Ngwenya subsequently commented to News24.

"At any rate, Russia is not a scare word. The Russian Federation has been a fraternal friend of South Africa for many years and is a fellow BRICS member state."

The original statement issued by the Presidency stipulates that Mabuza would take "a few days' sick leave" starting from October 25.

"The deputy president has requested the president to grant him leave for a few days to rest and he will be back at work to continue with his programme soon enough," Ngwenya said at the time.

According to the Sunday Times, Mabuza would return to work on Monday.

On Sunday, Ngwenya told News24 that "as is, the deputy president is here in South Africa going about his normal Sunday chores".

"South Africans can be assured that he is in good health and will be resuming his delegated responsibilities soonest."

In September this year, DA leader Mmusi Maimane wrote an open letter published by News24 in which he asked for clarification on a previous trip Mabuza took to Russia in October 2015.

He said information had emerged of a flight to and back from Moscow by an aircraft owned by the Gupta family.  

Mabuza was recorded as being aboard these flights. He later confirming that he had visited the country for medical treatment, following him apparently having been poisoned at birthday celebrations in August of that year.

It was claimed that Mabuza was invited on the flights by Duduzane Zuma.

In his open letter, Maimane questioned why the alleged poisoning had then never been reported to the police.

In April this year, Fin24 reported that Mabuza said the use of the Gupta plane to fly him to Russia was a gesture of goodwill and had not left him beholden to them in any way.

"As a citizen, when you see people in an accident who are trapped in a car, your duty as a citizen would be to assist them and get them to hospital. Those people don't owe you anything for taking them to hospital. It is your duty as a citizen," he was quoted as saying.

Meanwhile, in May this year, Fin24 reported that Mabuza had been appointed by Ramaphosa as his Russian envoy.

Subsequently, in June, News24 reported that Mabuza had described the purpose of a working visit to Russia as being to "deliver South Africa's message of congratulations to President Vladimir Putin on his re-election".

During a question and answer session in the National Council of Provinces, he also said that no discussions on a nuclear deal were held at the time.

Mabuza's claim of poisoning is not the first of its kind made by political figures.

In January this year, City Press reported on how ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule claimed during a memorial service for the Free State head of the police, roads and transport department Sandile Msibi, that Msibi had been poisoned.

Magashule said that at the time: "We said, president [Zuma], we have a friend; that this man has been poisoned. Can we please take him to Russia? There are others who have gone to Russia and come back alive."

In 2017, then president Jacob Zuma spoke about "foreign forces" having tried three times to poison him, claiming it was owing to his calls for radical economic transformation.