Former president Jacob Zuma sneaked out of South Africa this week for a mysterious meeting in Doha with the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani.
So hush-hush was the trip that neither the presidency, the department of international relations and co-operation (Dirco) nor the South African embassy in Doha were informed about it, as protocol dictates.
Former heads of state, who are viewed as still being part of the presidency, usually submit a memorandum or inform the presidency, Dirco and the South African embassy in the country they are visiting, detailing everything about the trip and who will be accompanying them, before undertaking any foreign travel. When they arrive, they are met by embassy officials who facilitate their smooth transfer and on-ground travel. None of this happened in this trip.
The Sunday Times understands that President Cyril Ramaphosa and international relations minister Lindiwe Sisulu learnt of the trip and the meeting only when SA’s ambassador to Qatar, Faizel Moosa, wrote to Sisulu and her advisers to raise his concerns about the trip. Moosa described the trip as “rather unusual”.
‘TIGHTLY MANAGED TRIP’
“If there is any further information that can be shared, we would welcome it as it is rather unusual that our former president travels to Qatar without proper information being shared with the mission to ensure that we are able to play our role in this matter,” Moosa writes.
In his e-mail to Sisulu and her adviser, Zane Dangor, Moosa says he became aware of the intended trip only on Friday September 14 after receiving an e-mail from a Qatari government official mentioning that Zuma would be visiting Qatar from September 18 to 20 (Tuesday to Thursday this week).
“After making inquiries with our desk in Dirco and directorate of Africa affairs in the ministry of foreign affairs of the state of Qatar, it was obvious that neither were aware of such visit,” Moosa writes. After making inquiries, Moosa learnt that Zuma had been invited by the emir.
“This afternoon I received a call from [ambassador Ibrahim Fakhro], head of state protocol of Qatar, advising me that former president Zuma will meet the Emir at 10.30am on the 19th September 2018. I asked him to put it in writing to me, indicating the venue, which he agreed to do but I did not receive any at the time of writing this e-mail.”
When he did not receive the e-mail, Moosa decided to report the matter to Sisulu in SA.
This week officials from both the presidency and Dirco, all speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Sunday Times that Doha-based businessman Philippe Solomons, and Gayton McKenzie, a known supporter of Zuma, were involved in organising the trip and setting up the meeting with the Emir. The two business people are also said to have offered their private jets to fly Zuma to Doha.
McKenzie on Friday denied playing any part in setting up a meeting or making travel arrangements for Zuma but confirmed the organisers of the trip asked if he could fly Zuma to Doha. He would not say who had asked. “I told them that my private jet wasn’t available. I don’t even know who the emir of Qatar is or what was the trip all about.”
It is unusual for Dirco not to know about a former head of state’s foreign visit. A representative of the Thabo Mbeki Foundation said whenever the former president had a planned foreign trip, his office wrote a memorandum to the presidency, Dirco and the relevant South African embassy. This goes for both official and private trips.
Former president FW de Klerk’s personal assistant, Brenda Steyn, said Dirco would know about De Klerk’s travels because he was accompanied by two bodyguards provided by the state. Former president Kgalema Motlanthe’s office could not be reached.
Well-placed sources at Dirco told the Sunday Times that the South African government had not been informed of Zuma’s trip. A senior Dirco official, who asked not to be named, confirmed that Zuma “hadn’t shared any information with anyone about this trip. It’s being tightly managed as a private visit. His hosts are paying for everything.”
Speaking exclusively to the Sunday Times on Friday, Ramaphosa confirmed that Zuma had been in Qatar but his government had not been formally informed.
“I’ve, like you, heard that he has been to
Qatar, but I don’t know anything about that visit. I don’t know anything,” said Ramaphosa.
When asked whether he was concerned about the activities of the former president, Ramaphosa said he was more concerned about the unity of the ANC — an indication that he viewed the trip as part of a plot against his government by some within the ruling party. “That was one of the key tasks that I was given [unity]. What we are seeking to do is to get everyone in the kraal so that we can pull in the same direction,” he said.
On the day of his meeting with Zuma, Wednesday, the Sunday Times understands, the Emir also met Mandla Mandela.
According to reports, Mandla was in Doha to address a Heritage Day celebration with thousands of South African expats.
But the purpose of Zuma’s visit remains unknown as his office did not respond to questions sent to it on Friday.
Speculation is rife in diplomatic circles and presidency corridors that Zuma met the emir to ask for money for his legal fees, while others believe the meeting discussed offering Zuma’s family permanent residency in the Gulf state.
“There’s a suspicion that he needs money for his fightback campaign against President Ramaphosa,” said the source.
The trip comes two weeks after Zuma held secret meetings with ANC secretarygeneral Ace Magashule and other key ANC leaders who were part of the group lobbying for Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to succeed Zuma as ANC president. In their secret meeting at the Maharani Hotel in Durban, the group is believed to have discussed plans to frustrate the Ramaphosa administration and influence the ANC list process ahead of next year’s national and provincial elections in favour of the grouping opposed to Ramaphosa.
Zuma has a good relationship with the emir. Shortly before he left office, Zuma visited Qatar to discuss possible investment in SA’s cash-strapped state-owned arms manufacturer, Denel. It is believed Denel also concluded a memorandum of understanding to supply Qatar with arms.
A senior government bureaucrat said it is also believed that the Emir discussed an offer of permanent residence with Zuma, who enjoyed a good relationship with the Emir’s father, Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani. The friendly ties continued when Tamim bin Hamad took over in 2013. Zuma has been to Qatar a number of times and the Emir returned the favour by visiting SA last year.
The leaked Gupta e-mails revealed that members of the Gupta family were looking at resettling Zuma in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Two draft e-mails written by Gupta associates on behalf of Zuma to Abu Dhabi crown prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and vice-president and prime minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum request their “guidance and direction” in making the UAE Zuma’s second home. Zuma denied any knowledge of the letters written to the UAE authorities requesting residence visas for him and his family.
Solomons is believed to have close ties to the Qatar royal family. It is understood he was in SA earlier this year to try to convince Ramaphosa to visit Qatar for a meeting with the Emir. Ramaphosa is understood to have declined the offer as he is suspicious of Solomons. “I won’t be surprised if Philippe used his private jet to fetch Zuma and dropped him off in SA,” a source said. Solomons could not be reached for comment.
Dirco spokesperson Ndivhuwo Mabaya said that the department had been informed about Zuma’s trip by police — understood to refer to the presidential protection unit — and that they did not know who had accompanied the former president.
Ramaphosa confirmed that the Qatari state had been reaching out to his administration. “The Qataris are represented here, they have an embassy here. They wanted us to have closer links with them. They have sent messages,” said Ramaphosa.
– Sunday times