In A Process That Seeks To Establish Truth, Mentor Wouldn’t Have Qualified As Witness

By Pinky Khoabane

IN a proper commission of inquiry whose role is purely to seek truth and nothing else, Vitjie Mentor, would not have been able to take the stand.

With the exception of her name, just about every piece of information she gave in her testimony is inaccurate. The State Capture Commission, an important process, which should be about exposing corruption and holding those responsible to account, has been allowed to be a platform for personal and political agendas and revenge attacks.

This Commission seems to work in reverse – it sullies the names of people first and later assesses the evidence. Mentor was cross-examined by the evidence leader yesterday, and almost all the information she placed before the commission was false. If the Commission genuinely sought to find truth, why didn’t it do what it did to Mentor before she made so many defamatory statements about so many people? Why were the facts not verified before she was allowed to take the stand?

If the Commission was not motivated by other factors but truth alone, it would have established, very quickly that the star witness was its weakest link.

  • Ajay Gupta never left this country’s shores during the period Mentor said they had met in China
  • The fact that she testified to having met Fana Hlogwane on a flight to China, but in her book, said the same man was Brian Hlongwa speaks volumes. The Commission itself brought this up in her original testimony but it did not stop it from allowing her testimony. She later retracted and said the man she met was not Hlongwane. Yesterday she was asked to identify the seat where this man she was introduced to sat so as to ascertain the passenger’s identity. She turned down the offer and it doesn’t require rocket science to see why she didn’t.
  • There was a litany of discrepancies regarding her Department of Trade & Industry (DTI) China visit. Nothing tallies – her arrival and departure dates, the state banquet, and so forth. It was simply cringe-worthy to see the evidence leader and Chairman Raymond Zondo try and protect her from being exposed. “Maybe you took the flight to Hongkong at another time,” this when it was put to her that she didn’t take a connecting flight to Hongkong as she’d testified last year.
  • Mentor’s flight dates to Johannesburg when she claims to have been summoned to meet former President Jacob Zuma and later the Guptas could not be found on any airline.
  • The Guptas must have redone the entire house(s) since her last visit in 2010 (which is quite possible). The Guptas apparently owned a string of houses in one street but by the end of the cross-examination it wasn’t clear exactly which house(s) had been visited and for what purpose – No 3, No 5 or No7 and which boundary walls had to be examined as evidence. Shocking were revelations that the Commission had commissioned experts, architects etc, to verify the features of the home(s) which Mentor had mentioned in her testimony. The experts report said none of these features existed but also conceded they had not investigated whether there were new features in the homes post Mentor’s visit. Checking for renovations (if any) to the Gupta home(s) would have cost the taxpayer R800 000, the evidence leader said.

This Commission has trampled on the rights of the implicated. It has allowed witnesses to sully the integrity of the implicated and offered them cross examination months later. And so, all the falsehoods Mentor told us in August last year have been allowed to firmly set in our minds before they could be rebutted.

Writing in his blog AnchoredinLaw on the role of commissions, Advocate Vuyani Ngalwana says: “Because the ultimate aim of Commissions of Inquiry is a search for the truth, witnesses often meet with evidence leaders privately, before giving evidence in the open, so that evidence leaders can assess the evidence, test it against facts and other evidence already in their possession, and have it reduced to writing. There should be no room for surprises, whether on the part of evidence leaders or on the part of witnesses.

“During the Marikana Commission, for example, the evidence leaders interviewed the police witnesses they wanted to interview before those witnesses gave their evidence in open session. On that approach, nothing that the witness says in evidence can come as a surprise, unless the witness changes his or her evidence while giving oral evidence at the hearing.

“It is thus unhelpful to the cause of a Commission of Inquiry for evidence leaders to behave like a prosecuting team in a criminal trial. Evidence leaders have no witnesses of their own. They should thus have no “version” to put to witnesses for “cross examination” purposes.

“Evidence leaders should also be particularly careful of treating media reports and opinion pieces as evidence. They are not. They are simply information to be assessed and tested against other available information. They do not constitute “a version” to be put to witnesses. This should not be difficult to understand because a version can only be tested by questioning the witness advancing such version.

“A related concern is the belief that witness (B) who comes to the Commission voluntarily in order to correct a factual account given by witness (A) about witness (B) in the physical absence of witness (B) must first agree to subject herself or himself to cross-examination on matters that travel far beyond what witness (B) came to the Commission to correct. That approach is in my view an ambush.

“Worse still, witnesses could be flushed out into the open through other witnesses deliberately telling untruths for the sole purpose of compelling the implicated persons to come forward and be questioned on matters that tend to embarrass third parties so that those third parties can also in turn be flushed out into the open. Such testimony by ambush is undesirable and inconsistent with the purpose of a Commission of Inquiry”.

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