Cape Town - Was Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson recalled to South Africa from her Christmas holiday in Sweden so that she could arrange urgent import permits for agricultural goods for guests attending President Jacob Zuma’s wedding in January 2010?
This appears likely from the public protector’s report, Costly Moves, into complaints that Joemat-Pettersson had breached the executive ethics code, including that her department illegally paid for return air tickets for her two children and an au pair from Sweden at a cost of R151 878.
But there is no clarity as to whether the instruction for her return came from Zuma or from staff in the Presidency - and when the Presidency was first given an opportunity to respond to this issue by the Public Protector’s investigators, it denied any knowledge of such an instruction.
Now the Presidency is still denying any knowledge of such a “request” to Joemat-Pettersson, but says the Public Protector’s report is being processed and that “space (must) be allowed for proper processing... Speculation will not assist the process”.
Zuma married Thobeka Madiba at Nkandla on Monday, January 4, 2010. According to the report, Zuma approved Joemat-Pettersson’s leave of absence in Sweden for December 23, 2009 to January 6. But she left Sweden on January 1.
Her then chief of staff, Bafedile Bopape, stated during her interview with Public Protector investigators that her boss had been recalled by the Presidency and that a meeting had been held on her return on January 2 - a Saturday - at the Melrose Arch Hotel in Joburg.
“No information on the reasons why Minister Joemat-Pettersson had to return to South Africa urgently on the 1st of January was initially provided by her during the investigation,” the report states. “The Presidency indicated that it does not have any information on record that the minister was recalled and referred enquiries made during the investigation to the ministry.”
In her initial response to the Public Protector, Joemat-Pettersson said she’d been told by Zuma on December 28 that she had to return to South Africa on January 3.
“I accordingly changed the return date of our air tickets to depart Sweden on 2 January 2010, to arrive in South Africa on 3 January 2010 in order to meet with the president... However, subsequent to this change, I was recalled urgently by the president, and instructed to depart Sweden by 1 January 2010, in order to meet with the presidency.”
Answering questions of clarification by the investigators, Joemat-Pettersson said no reasons for the urgent recall had been provided by the Presidency and that the instruction had come from “an authorised official” whom she declined to name.
Asked whether she’d met Zuma, she replied: “I consider the information requested herein confidential. Kindly divert your query to the Presidency.”
Asked what the purpose of the hotel meeting had been, she said: “I consider the information regarding the purpose of the meeting to be confidential.”
In August, Joemat-Pettersson provided additional information to the Public Protector in a statement that read in part: “Although I was initially reluctant to reveal the nature of the President’s instruction to me, it is apparent that this has led to speculation as to whether the president would have insisted on my return... In these circumstances I feel that it would be appropriate to answer the query in more detail than I had originally done, without wishing to breach the relationship of trust with the Presidency.
“The reason for my early return related mainly to the fact that I needed to assist dignitaries and some VIP guests with regard to the importation of prescribed goods that they required during their stay in South Africa at the time. I was under pressure to expedite that matter.”