"We owe her." That was the response of senior ANC executive member Dumisani Makhaye when asked on Sunday to comment on reports that the ANC had given former Durban attorney Linda Zama a R232 000 loan to settle her outstanding legal fees.

South Africa's freedom and democracy had been achieved through various contributions including those of Zama, he said.

The matter of the loan was private, similar to that between a bank and its client, he added.

"You don't expect banking institutions to reveal details about its loan agreements.

"Personally, I believe that the freedom and democracy we enjoy today is because of people like Linda Zama. We owe many people, including her, for their contributions," Makhaye said.

Asked whether it was usual practice for the ANC to lend money to members, he said: "I can't say whether it is normal or not, but she is a member of the ANC... This is strictly a private matter between Linda and the ANC."

The ANC, according to reports, lent Zama the money so that she could be re-admitted as an attorney. She was disbarred in 1998 following investigations by attorney Frank Sithole after a shortfall of R100 000 was discovered in her trust account.

Although the money was repaid, she owed R232 000 in legal costs after a two-year tussle with the Natal Law Society.

Although Zama, a part-time consultant to the KwaZulu-Natal ministry of transport, was not available for comment on Sunday, she was quoted in a weekend report as saying: "I am trying to rebuild my life... When you are struggling, there comes a time when you might need a loan and it is loan that is to be repaid... People who say I enjoy special favour in the ANC are petty.

"I don't like to get involved in these personal things."

While Zama claims to be an ordinary member of the ANC, she was recently linked to a letter written by Winnie Madikizela-Mandela claiming that President Mbeki was sidelining her.

Mbeki allegedly said that Zama could confirm that Madikizela-Mandela was the source of certain rumours about women.