AGIZA HLONGWANE and NATHI OLIFANT
A 29-year-old Tanzanian man who threatened to expose “secrets” about first lady Nompumelelo Ntuli-Zuma’s bodyguard has been arrested in Durban. Steven Ongolo was arrested on Friday afternoon for extortion.
He contacted a number of newspapers this week making sensational claims about MaNtuli.
The Sunday Independent’s sister newspaper, the Sunday Tribune, got him to reduce his story to a statement he made to the newspaper’s attorneys.
In it he claims he received repeated payments from MaNtuli, amounting to about R200 000, over a three-year period.
He emphatically denied he was blackmailing President Jacob Zuma’s second wife, saying she hired him to secure mining rights in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Ongolo also claimed to “know too much about her” and said he was prepared to testify to this in a court of law.
He says the secrets are centred around MaNtuli’s “close friendship” with her bodyguard Phinda Thomo, who reportedly committed suicide by shooting himself in the bathtub of his rented Soweto house in 2009.
Chilling details of a plot to kill Thomo are contained in an e-mail Ongolo sent to newspapers this week, in which he claimed the suicide was in fact murder.
It was alleged in newspaper reports at the time that Thomo killed himself after learning that a Zulu newspaper was working on a story about an alleged affair between him and the first lady, who later became pregnant.
At the time of his death, Thomo’s fiancée, Lerato Shabangu, questioned the circumstances of his suicide.
Speaking to the Sunday Tribune this week, Ongolo said he had never blackmailed MaNtuli, but said he believed it was now time for the truth to come out.
“There are things that Thomo knew that MaNtuli didn’t want to come out. If Thomo was alive, he would have brought a challenge to the issue of the baby.”
Describing himself as a long-time friend of MaNtuli’s, Ongolo also claimed he had met and had lunch with Zuma, at his homestead in Nkandla, without undergoing security clearance, after travelling in MaNtuli’s government-issued car.
He claimed he was introduced to her by Correctional Services minister and former KwaZulu-Natal premier S’bu Ndebele.
He said he met Ndebele and his wife Zama through former eThekwini mayor Obed Mlaba. He said he met Mlaba after a protest by immigrants in Durban where he acted as an interpreter.
Contacted yesterday Mlaba said: “I do not know that man and I have never personally required the services of an interpreter”.
Ongolo said he decided to speak out because he was “tired” of receiving threatening SMSes from MaNtuli. He produced an SMS which he claims was from MaNtuli. It reads: “Steven, what you are doing to me is wrong. I took you as my brother, I trusted you with my secrets. Now you are turning against me. What have I done wrong? Change your mind and please don’t talk to the media as it will not only destroy me but my husband. I know my enemies are at work, but not you Steven. Don’t do this to me. I have money to change your life. Think Steven.”
Asked why he was only coming out with the allegations now Ongolo said he feared for his own life and also wanted the truth to be told.
It is not the first time that MaNtuli is making headlines for all the wrong reasons. In February 2010, two years after becoming Zuma’s second wife, the first lady narrowly escaped an embarrassing eviction from her upmarket rented home in Durban.
This was after a dispute between the wealthy benefactors who were bankrolling her.
MaNtuli had reportedly lived in the for five years, along with the two children she has with Zuma, as well as other members of the president’s family.
The home was leased in 1995 by one of Zuma’s benefactors, Erwin Ullbricht, through a company called Nxamalala Investments CC.
It was rented at a time when Zuma was axed as deputy president of the country and was fighting allegations of corruption.
The Sunday Independent’s sister paper, The Mercury, reported that the owner of the house Abdul Rahim Malek, a known Zuma backer, had intended selling it and gave MaNtuli 30 days to vacate it or face an ugly legal battle.
Ulbricht confirmed at the time he and other business people were paying some of MaNtuli’s expenses, including rent, garden services, electricity and water. Ulbricht said at the time that a new lease had been secured.
She was later branded “The Madam from Hell” after allegations surfaced that she had allegedly flouted labour laws and mistreated, abused and exploited at least three domestic workers while living at the plush Morningside mansion.
The Commission for Conciliation Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) ordered MaNtuli to pay her domestic worker Doris Ngobese R16 000 for unfair dismissal after she failed to attend a hearing. Ngobese claimed that MaNtuli had begged her to quit her job as a cleaner at St Augustine’s Hospital and to work as her domestic worker, with the promise of a better office job later through her “connections”.
MaNtuli had agreed to pay her R2 500 a month, but paid her only R2 000. After her dismissal, Ngobese was paid R3 320 by one of Zuma’s sons after the Labour Department intervened. However, MaNtuli said she knew little about this settlement agreement as it was handled by her staff. MaNtuli has denied all the allegations against her.
It was reported that she had spent the festive season away from Zuma after it emerged that she had allegedly committed adultery with a man meant to protect her. Following this revelation, several sources said MaNtuli was not allowed to go to Nkandla as she had offended the ancestors and the Zumas. She was eventually accepted back after a traditional ritual was performed months later. In the same year, MaNtuli appeared to be the target of an apparent smear campaign following reports that she had accompanied Zuma on a state visit while she was pregnant. An anonymous letter purportedly “by concerned family members” was faxed to several newspapers.
It contained sensational and damaging allegations. That same year, MaNtuli gave birth to a baby boy named Manqoba Kholwani (Believe It) Zuma, the president’s 21st child. MaNtuli did not respond to eight phone calls and three SMSes sent to her this week. Ndebele vehemently denied knowing Ongolo. “I have no knowledge of such a person and have never had reason to introduce anyone to Mrs Zuma. It makes no sense.”
Mlaba could not be reached for comment.