The net is closing in on First Lady Nompumelelo Ntuli-Zuma, who has allegedly admitted to knowing about a plot to poison the president.
City Press has learnt from four well-placed sources – both in law enforcement and in family circles – that President Jacob Zuma’s estranged wife, known as MaNtuli, will “soon” be charged with conspiracy to commit murder.
The authorities are still on the trail of her alleged accomplices, which City Press has learnt includes a flamboyant KwaZulu-Natal businessman. Three of the four sources confirmed that other local and foreign individuals were also on investigators’ radar.
The alleged plot came to light in February, when the Sunday Times reported that MaNtuli had been cast out of the presidential home in Nkandla because Zuma had become suspicious of her involvement in a plot to poison him.
At the time, neither the presidency nor the police would confirm or deny the plot allegations. Both the government and Zuma have been keen to keep the matter out of the news because it thrusts his private life into the public spotlight. However, this may become inevitable because the investigation has been going full tilt behind the scenes.
A docket is now believed to be with the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and is being dealt with by senior prosecutors. Law enforcement sources told City Press that MaNtuli had made a statement to investigators and her affidavit contained “some very interesting names”.
“This thing [plot] was big,” said a source familiar with the investigation.
Another well-placed law enforcement source said: “It’s true. She is going to be charged with conspiracy to commit murder. She hasn’t been charged because we haven’t been able to nab the man [or] people who are behind the plot,” the source said.
The decision to charge MaNtuli is likely to be one of the first hot potatoes to land in newly appointed National Director of Public Prosecutions Shaun Abrahams’ lap.
Although two independent sources close to the investigation told City Press that NPA top brass were fully aware of the matter, spokesperson Luvuyo Mfaku denied this.
“Regrettably, we cannot comment. The matter has not been brought to our attention. [Provincial prosecutions director] Advocate [Moipone] Noko is not giving any prosecutorial guidance to police on the matter,” said Mfaku.
City Press now understands from sources familiar with the case that an investigation is now under way to find out whether NPA staff leaked information involving the MaNtuli investigation.
A source close to the Zuma family said suspicions about a possible poison plot arose when Zuma became very ill in June last year.
“At some point, we noticed that ubaba was very sick and it had nothing to do with the routine checkups. He was really sick,” said a law enforcement insider.
When it became clear that he had been poisoned, suspicion fell on his wives. Most fingers pointed in the direction of MaNtuli, whose relationship with the president had been going through a rocky patch.
MaNtuli’s marriage was rocked by infidelity after she allegedly cheated on Zuma with her bodyguard, Phinda Thomo. Details of the alleged affair came to light when a letter, supposedly written by concerned family members, was sent to an isiZulu newspaper. The family came to MaNtuli’s defence, denying wrongdoing on her behalf.
The Sunday Times reported a senior intelligence source saying the poisoning was discovered when Zuma travelled to the US in August last year for the US-Africa Leaders’ Summit. The newspaper reported that doctors there discovered what was wrong with him and the diagnosis was subsequently confirmed by Russian doctors.
City Press has learnt that during the subsequent investigation, MaNtuli allegedly crumbled and confessed to having knowledge of the plot.
“She, in not so many words, admitted that she was behind the plot and she was kicked out of Nkandla because she was a threat,” said a family associate.
“She was told to take all her belongings and leave Nkandla. She is only allowed there if she is there to bring the children.”
MaNtuli later revealed the details of the plot to the authorities.
Sources close to the Zuma family said they believed that although the motive for the plot was still unknown, MaNtuli was drawn into it while on a business trip to the US last year. While there, she was wooed by the plotters, who allegedly offered her money to facilitate Zuma’s murder.
“They wooed her because she had direct access to the president. Money exchanged hands, a lot of it … The deal was to kill the president,” said a law enforcement insider.
The family became more suspicious after they claim she was able to buy a house in the Pietermaritzburg area, and allegedly treated her loyal friends to a three-week stay in a five-star Durban hotel. “The money was driving her crazy,” said a law enforcement source.
While MaNtuli has been stripped of her privileges, she still has her VIP security detail “because it is to monitor her movements … so we will always know where she is”, said a family insider.
Zuma is also keeping her within the marital fold because “she is fine where she is, where we can monitor her”.
MaNtuli has since kept a very low profile, said the family insiders. Last week she was seen at the funeral of prominent ANC leader Thulani Mashaba – it was the first time she had been spotted at a public event since her exile from the family.
At the funeral, she was ushered into a seat towards the back of the hall, next to Deputy Agriculture Minister Bheki Cele and his wife, Thembeka – well away from Zuma and his first wife, Sizakele Khumalo-Zuma, and his fourth wife, Bongi Ngema-Zuma.
She has also not been seen at Zuma’s side during his official trips abroad. During a trip to Russia last month for the Brics summit, Tobeka Madiba Zuma accompanied him. On trips to Mozambique in May, to China in December and to Senegal in October, MaKhumalo was by his side. MaNgema accompanied him on a trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo in October.
MaNtuli was also not seen at her husband’s state of the nation address in Parliament in February, an event all his wives traditionally attend.
Investigators from the police and intelligence agencies are now monitoring her suspected co-conspirators and gathering evidence to link them directly to the plot.
“We still do not know why they wanted to kill the president and what they stood to gain. No one really knows. Until we can get to the masterminds, it is still a mystery and a confusing situation,” said a source close to the investigation.
MaNtuli could not be reached for comment this week. Police spokesperson Lieutenant General Solomon Makgale declined to comment on the case, referring all questions to the presidency.
Presidency spokesperson Bongani Majola also declined to comment, saying he was unable to speak on a personal family matter.
In a statement from her lawyers, BDK Attorneys, MaNtuli today denied involvement in, or knowledge of, such a plot.
“Our client has not ‘crumbled and confessed’ to having any knowledge of any plot to poison her husband,” BDK Attorneys director Ulrich Roux said in the statement.