Minister Ntshavheni sticks to her guns about Denel directorship, despite state capture findings

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Minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni.
Minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni.
Picture: GCIS
  • Communications Minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni says she always acted in Denel's best interests as a board member of the state weapons manufacturer.
  • This is after the Zondo Commission found she was "probably culpable" in paving the way for the Guptas to loot Denel.
  • She stuck by her submission to the commission, which the commission has dismissed as something that makes "no sense".

Communications and Digital Technologies Minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, who the Zondo Commission has found is "probably culpable" in the Guptas' looting of Denel, has doubled down that she always acted in the best interests of the now floundering state enterprise.

In the second part of its report, released on Tuesday, the Zondo Commission recommends that the Denel board members who supported the suspension of three Denel executives – CEO Riaz Saloojee, chief financial officer Fikile Mhlontlo and group company secretary Elizabeth Africa – should be investigated by law enforcement agencies.

Ntshavheni was one of these board members.

In a statement on Friday, Ntshavheni said she would fully cooperate with such an investigation.

The commission also recommended that Denel should consider asking the court to declare those former board members as delinquent directors.

In 2015, former public enterprises minister Lynne Brown replaced all but one member of Denel's board. Ntshavheni – not involved in representative politics at the time – was one of the newly appointed directors. Daniel Mantsha – "one of the central actors in the Gupta and [Salim] Essa scheme to capture Denel," according to the commission – was the chairperson even though he had been struck from the roll of attorneys.

The commission views the appointment of this board as a key development in the eventual capture of arms manufacturer Denel.

Another watershed moment was the board's suspension of the three executives, spearheaded by Mantsha. They were never subjected to a disciplinary hearing and eventually left with handsome golden handshakes.

READ | Ntshavheni 'probably culpable' in Denel's capture when she served on its board

"The suspensions were, literally, weaponised to serve a corrupt purpose," the report read.

"All the directors who supported Mr Mantsha in his corrupt endeavour to get the three executives out of the way are similarly probably culpable."

The commission found that one of the directors, Nonyameko Mandindi, didn't support the three executives' suspension.

"The question why Mr Mantsha and, indeed, probably other members of the 2015 board so misconducted themselves can now be answered. The purpose of the suspension of Mr Saloojee, Mr Mhlonthlo and Ms Africa was to remove an obstruction from the path of the Guptas."

In her statement, Ntshavheni provided a summary of her affidavit to the commission.

"As a leader who embraces sound corporate governance, with the benefit of hindsight and with all the facts at my disposal, I would still support the decision to dismiss the three executives," she said in the summary.

She also said Denel's acting company secretary and head of legal "deliberately frustrated" the board's attempts to proceed with the three executives' disciplinary hearing.

The commission didn't buy this argument.  

"She said she agrees with Mr Mantsha's position and has sought to defend the board's position, on the same basis as Mr Mantsha did. Her and Mr Mantsha's explanation makes absolutely no sense," the report read.

"Minister Ntshavheni, like Mr Mantsha, said there was strong evidence that the three executives were guilty of serious acts of misconduct, and this evidence was already there when the executives were suspended. If that was so, the question is: why was that evidence not placed before the three executives in a disciplinary inquiry within a month after they were suspended?"

The commission's report makes no mention of Ntshavheni having any contact with the Guptas or their lieutenant, Salim Essa.

Ntshavheni reiterated this in her statement: 

I wish to put it on public record, as I have recorded it with the commission, that I have never met any of the Gupta brothers or any of their associates. I was never lobbied for the decisions I supported or opposed as a non-executive member of the Denel board of directors.

"In conclusion, during my tenure as non-executive director of the board of Denel, I always acted in the best interests of the company. I discharged my fiduciary responsibilities with rigour, integrity and in line with the required legislative and regulatory prescripts. I have never been party to any alleged acts of fraud, corruption, maladministration and state capture."

READ | How Lynne Brown inspired a recommendation to criminalise abuse of power

Ntshavheni is considered to be an ally of President Cyril Ramaphosa. She was a fundraiser for Ramaphosa during his CR17 campaign.

She was elected to Parliament for the first time during the 2019 elections.

Ramaphosa appointed her to his Cabinet as the Minister of Small Business Development.

She acted as the Minister in the Presidency after Jackson Mthembu's death, until Mondli Gungubele's appointment in this position in August 2021. During the August Cabinet reshuffle, she was moved to her current portfolio.

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