21 April 2024 | 12:57 AM

Shock and ore: Dirt flies in Sishen battle

Key Takeaways

An alleged assassination attempt has driven a witness to go public with allegations of collusion between ICT and the department of mineral resources.

A legal consultant who claims that he survived an assassination attempt on a lonely stretch of the N7 highway between Cape Town and Springbok last month has come to the Mail & Guardian with an incredible story.

Gawie Hendriksz says he knows how politically connected mining company Imperial Crown Trading 289 (ICT) acquired a multibillion-rand stake in the Sishen mine in the Northern Cape during the long weekend of May 2009.

ICT provisionally acquired a 21.4% stake in Sishen when it beat Anglo American’s subsidiary Kumba Iron Ore to the rights for what both companies believed was a vacant stake in one of the world’s largest opencast iron ore mines.

Sishen Part 2: Mystery death of a lonely official

Sishen Part 3: Prosecutor takes flak

ICT and Kumba have spent millions in court sparring over the allocation of the 21.4% stake, and have laid criminal charges against one another. (see “Sishen — the story so far” below)

Hendriksz, who since July 2011 has been under contract to a risk consultancy acting for Kumba, makes the following key allegations:

    • ICT co-founder and chief executive Phemelo Sehunelo paid a bribe of R250 000 to Charles Lerumo, the department of mineral resources’s Northern Cape assistant director of mineral laws to facilitate the acceptance of ICT’s application;


    • Lerumo kept R150 000 and passed R100 000 on to Thozama Basi, the department’s Northern Cape assistant director of social and labour plans;


    • Basi, who took possession of Kumba’s application on April 30 2009, made copies of documents such as title deeds from this application during the subsequent long weekend. She then handed these copies to Sehunelo; and


  • ICT’s application was incomplete and unsigned at the time it was purportedly captured on the department’s computer systems on May 4 2009. Lerumo saw to the capturing of ICT’s application on May 4, even though the ICT application was in fact only signed on May 5 that year. This is significant, as Kumba’s application was also registered on May 4 and legislation promotes a “first past the post” approach to competing applications.

Basi chose not to respond to detailed allegations put to her by the M&G. Lerumo would not even entertain the questions.

‘Scurrilous liar’

Responding on behalf of Sehunelo and ICT, attorney Ronnie Mendelow described Hendriksz as “nothing but a scurrilous liar seeking to peddle ‘information’ (in actual fact disinformation) to the highest bidder”.

Mendelow said that during a taped interview with ICT’s lawyers on November 2 2010, Hendriksz had offered a different version, in which Kumba had in fact bribed the department of mineral resources officials.

Mendelow said: “Suffice it to say that these allegations were all without any foundation whatsoever, and that the allegations regarding paying off of advocate Charlie Lerumo by our client, advocate Sehunelo are completely false and without any foundation whatsoever.”

Mendelow said that on his own version, Hendriksz had attempted to “peddle his information” to Kumba and ArcelorMittal. “Mr Gawie Hendriksz’s alleged desire — to make the facts known before somebody succeeds in killing him, is a conjured up story,” Mendelow said.

Arcelor potentially lost the 21.4% stake in Sishen it previously held by failing to convert its rights in terms of new legislation by the end of April 2009.Before the M&G contacted Mendelow, Hendriksz had disclosed his interaction with ICT to the newspaper, claiming that he had “played along” with the latter as part of his own investigation.

Hendriksz had also disclosed his interactions with both Kumba and Arcelor to the M&G.

The DMR also dismissed Hendriksz as “an information peddler”, claiming he had previously approached the department to offer his assistance in the matter. The department rejected his approach.

While Hendriksz’s allegations have not been tested in court, he has made a detailed affidavit to the Hawks investigator probing ICT’s conduct.

No assessment of his credibility is complete without considering his role in the successful investigation of another case involving the Kimberley department of mineral resources office — the so-called Saltworks case.

The Saltworks case

In this matter, Hendriksz was hired by Jalie du Toit, owner of Saamwerk Soutwerke, which had been on the brink of acquiring a mining right from the department to extract salt from a pan near Upington in 2006 when a rival mining company, Suid-Afrikaanse Soutwerke (SA Soutwerke), produced what it claimed was a valid permit to mine the same saltpan.

Du Toit’s suspicions were raised because two well-connected Northern Cape politicians — ANC regional chairperson John Block and Upington mayor Gift van Staden — had become directors of SA Soutwerke four months earlier. Du Toit hired Hendriksz to investigate.

Hendriksz made it his business to find out how mineral rights were awarded, and by whom, in the office of the department of mineral resources in Kimberley.

“In the course of my Soutwerke investigation, I was in the department office in Kimberley every second or third day until they got used to me,” he told the M&G.

By May 2009, when the 21.4% stake in Sishen became vacant, sparking the scramble between Kumba and ICT, Hendriksz said his investigations into SA Soutwerke’s permit had “intensified”.

“I was regularly attending at the Kimberley office of the department and was meeting several officials on a regular basis … [deputy director] Hennie Jansen van Rensburg and [assistant director of mineral laws] Charles Lerumo in particular.

“I sought not only to obtain information from them, but also, unknown to them, to cross-check information provided by one of them with the other. I avoided consulting them jointly,” Hendriksz said.

In May 2009, Jansen Van Rensburg was temporarily heading the regional office in Kimberley because his superior, Pieter Swart, had taken leave.

On May 18, Hendriksz said Jansen Van Rensburg called him into his office and said: “Here is a file on my table. I’ve got exactly the same case and problem with Kumba and ICT like in your matter with SA Soutwerke. The same what happened on your side. The permit is fraudulent, with high-up cover-up.”

At another meeting a few days later, on May 21, Jansen van Rensburg told Hendriksz what he meant by “high up”. “He said to me: ‘There is also involvement on the political level. There’s someone called Jagdish Parekh who also has a lot of influence [in ICT]. You’ll see, sooner or later — like John Block [with SA Soutwerke] — he’ll be brought in as a partner for ICT.”

ICT lawyer Mendelow, responding on behalf of Parekh, said Parekh “had nothing whatsoever to do with ICT in May 2009 and thereafter when our client’s application for the prospecting right was granted. He first became involved in ICT well after the prospecting right had been granted.”

Hendriksz said that at another meeting on June 10, Jansen Van Rensburg told him that his superior, “Swart, had instructed him, during the course of April 2009, that he [Jansen Van Rensburg] was to take over as acting regional manager of the Northern Cape regional office for the month of May 2009.

“Jansen Van Rensburg was to prepare for the lodging of a prospecting right application by ICT during this period, and was to ensure that this application was accepted, regardless of any irregularities with it,” he added. The instruction had apparently come from one of Swart’s superiors in Pretoria.

Swart denied this, saying: “I’ve never given Mr Van Rensburg the instruction as set out in your letter. My holiday arrangements [in which Jansen Van Rensburg would act] were made a considerable time before the end of April 2009 [when the Sishen applications were lodged].”

As Jansen van Rensburg has since died, Hendriksz’s recollection of their encounters cannot be confirmed. (Sishen Part 2: Mystery death of a lonely official)

In the interim, the salt mine dispute Hendriksz had been investigating reached its conclusion, providing an independent test of the credibility of both Hendriksz and Swart.

The case, heard in September 2009 in the Northern Cape High Court, turned on allegations that the mining permit on which SA Soutwerke relied — produced by the ANC’s Block at a meeting with the DMR — was a forgery.

Before the hearing department of mineral resources officials — including Swart — gave sworn statements supporting Block’s SA Soutwerke and suggesting the fake permit was legitimate.

By the time Hendriksz came to testify, Swart’s statement had been mysteriously withdrawn and Hendriksz’s evidence of manipulation and double-dealing by the department was hardly challenged in cross-examination.

In his ruling Judge Hennie Lacock found that SA Soutwerke’s permit was a fake. The judge made no mention of Hendriksz, but Jasper Tredoux, Saamwerk Soutwerke’s advocate, said: “Gawie was a truthful witness — But his greatest importance was behind the scenes.

“He helped unravel everything that happened in the department of minerals, who did what with regard to the mining licence applications.”

His employer in this matter, Du Toit (owner of Saamwerk Soutwerke) said: “In the court case there was a lot of bullshit on the department’s side. I stood alone; nobody in the department would help me understand where the other permit came from. But Gawie helped me.

“Without Gawie’s investigation I could not have taken this case to court.”

Building trust

The relationships Hendriksz built with department of mineral resources officials during the Saltworks case, particularly with Lerumo, were crucial to the alleged disclosures they made to him about ICT.

Said Hendriksz: “Lerumo was the department’s legal advocate, so I was working a lot with him [on the Soutwerke matter]. I slowly built up trust with him —”

In mid-2010, the department charged Lerumo with misconduct and regional manager Swart summoned him to a departmental disciplinary inquiry. On June 10, Hendriksz said that Lerumo had approached him for advice.

He had suggested to Lerumo that he remind Swart of his own alleged conduct in the ICT matter. According to Hendriksz, the charges were then withdrawn.

In February 2011, when the department revived misconduct charges against Lerumo, he and Hendriksz met again — and on this occasion Hendriksz decided to record the conversation. He asked ex-policeman Andreas Steenkamp to sit in a car outside the Protea Hotel in Kimberley, where the two men met, tap their exchange using a remote listening device and transcribe it in a notebook.

The alleged conversation took place on February 21 in the hotel reception area. Steenkamp refused to discuss the encounter with the M&G, but confirmed that he had given a sworn affidavit to the police, the content of which is unknown.

The M&G has seen a copy of Steenkamp’s purported shorthand notes from this encounter. At face value, they support Hendriksz’s claim that Lerumo admitted receiving money from ICT’s Sehunelo and that he also implicated department of mineral resources official Basi.

The M&G understands that Swart eventually proceeded with disciplinary action against Lerumo, who was found guilty. The charges included an allegation that Lerumo accepted R5 000 from a mining consultant to speed up the processing of their applications, though it is not know if this particular charge was proved.

Lerumo is still employed at the department in Kimberley.

Hendriksz said his attempts to persuade Lerumo to approach the police and seek indemnity from prosecution had not borne fruit.

‘Controversial decision’

In addition to developing ties with Jansen van Rensburg and Lerumo, the third — and possibly most controversial — aspect of Hendriksz’s investigation was his decision to approach all five parties in the dispute, the police, the department of mineral resources, Kumba, ArcelorMittal and ICT, to offer information.

According to Hendriksz, he first approached Colonel Tobias Marais of the South African Police Service, who had investigated SA Soutwerke, to tell the Hawks that if they wanted to know “exactly what happened about ICT” they should get in touch with him. The Hawks did not respond.

Hendriksz then approached Kumba’s attorney, Robert Botha, who told him that “Kumba does not buy information”. Hendriksz said he responded that he did not want to sell anything, but that Kumba could take him on as a consultant. Botha’s reluctance gave Hendriksz “a feeling that they had already burnt their fingers somehow”.

Hendriksz said that because “ArcelorMittal and Kumba were the only two companies that had nothing to do with ICT’s fraud and bribery of DMR personnel”, he approached Arcelor next. Hendriksz claims he made contact with a senior Arcelor executive, who told him that they were not worried about ICT. Only later did he learn that Arcelor had been negotiating to buy ICT.

Finally, Hendriksz said he was contacted by Lerumo, who wanted him to meet ICT chief executive Sehunelo. Lerumo set up the appointment, and the two met at ICT’s Kimberley offices on October 25 2010.

“During this meeting, Sehunelo said that he understood that I was someone who knew a lot about what had transpired regarding ICT’s application over the 30 April to 4 May 2009 weekend. I replied that I did.

“He then said that I could perhaps assist ICT by deposing an affidavit that would support ICT’s case.

“Sehunelo explained that I would have to depose an affidavit in which I would falsely state that I was aware of collaboration between Kumba and officials in the department which resulted in department officials tampering with the ICT application by inserting documents from the Kumba application. This was to make it appear that the ICT application had been submitted using copied documents.”

Hendriksz undertook to work with ICT, saying: “I wanted to play along with them, to understand who the key role players are behind the curtains there. I wanted to establish what political roleplayers with influence were … in ICT.”

Saamwerk Soutwerke’s lawyer Tredoux supported his explanation, saying: “Sometimes you have to go under cover and disguise your intentions in order to uncover the truth.”

The following week ICT flew Hendriksz from Cape Town to Johannesburg, where he met ICT attorney Mendelow and advocate Edmund Wessels in the latter’s Sandton chambers. The M&G has seen a record of the 1Time return flight booking made by Sehunelo’s personal assistant Sharifa Ferris.

At the Johannesburg meeting Hendriksz said he had “said what Sehunelo asked me to say”.

Mendelow confirmed the meeting, and gave the M&G access to a transcript in which Hendriksz indeed repeated the claim that Kumba paid a former official from the department to meddle with ICT’s application.

In a transcript of the recording which the M&G has seen, Hendriksz promised ICT further information about who took bribes in the department from Kumba in return for employment as a consultant. He also offered to testify for ICT in court.

Wessels expressed interest in Hendriksz’s information, but the interview did not end with a definitive undertaking by either party.

In their response, Mendelow and Hendriksz agreed that both parties had lost interest in each other soon after this meeting. Mendelow said that he believed Hendriksz was an information-peddler, while Hendriksz said: “I would not have consented to being so engaged, given my knowledge of the fraud perpetrated by ICT.”

In July 2011, a consultancy called Risk Analysis, retained by Kumba’s legal team to identify evidence or witnesses which could assist the company’s litigation strategy in the ICT matter, made contact with Hendriksz.

Risk Analysis’s Mungo Soggot said: “We approached Mr Hendriksz … after learning that, on account of his work in the Saamwerk matter, he was uniquely placed to provide an insight into what took place at the DMR Kimberley office in April 2009.

“His brief was to help us identify other potential witnesses to the impropriety he described. In particular, his brief was to explore whether Charles Lerumo — with whom he had a close relationship — could become a witness. It was never intended at this stage that he would be a witness himself,” said Soggott, a former M&G journalist who left the newspaper in 2002.

Hendriksz entered into a contract with Risk Analysis. Ultimately, Kumba and its legal advisers introduced him to the Hawks. Hendriksz said his ultimate goal was to stamp out corruption in the department, which is “damaging the mining industry”.

Sishen: The story so far

Under 2004 mining legislation, companies were required to convert mining rights under old law by applying for “new order” rights by May 1 2009.

By the deadline, iron-ore miner Kumba, had applied to convert its 78.6% stake in the Sishen iron mine. But steel manufacturer ArcelorMittal, with the remaining 21.4%, had not. Kumba and an obscure shelf company, Imperial Crown Trading 289 (ICT), raced to acquire the rights to ArcelorMittal’s 21.4% stake, estimated to be worth R800-billion over the mine’s remaining life.

But May 1 — a Friday — was a public holiday.

On Monday May 4, Kumba and Imperial’s applications for the vacant Sishen stake were recorded on the department’s system in Kimberley. ICT applied for a prospecting right, Kumba for a mining right. Controversy now surrounds both applications.

ICT claims Kumba acted deceitfully by handing in its application early and asking department officials to lodge it on May 4.

Kumba claims that ICT’s application was not ready on May 4, but that officials recorded ICT’s application as lodged on that day — even though ICT’s application trickled in over succeeding days.

Both companies also accuse one another of bribing officials to tamper with their rival’s application.

In November 2009, the department handed ICT a prospecting right on the basis that both applications had arrived on May 4, but that ICT had superior BEE credentials.

One of ICT’s founding directors was Prudence “Gugu” Mtshali, reportedly Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe’s romantic partner. Motlanthe was South Africa’s caretaker president in May 2009 when ICT applied for the stake.

In March 2010 ICT handed over a 50% stake to JIC Mining, represented on its board by Jagdish Parekh. JIC is controlled by the Gupta brothers, benefactors of the Zuma family.

In August 2010 Arcelor offered to buy out Imperial and incorporate its directors into a new consortium that included President Jacob Zuma’s son Duduzane and Parekh, making them instant billionaires.

But the buy-out was never consummated. Instead, Kumba and Arcelor won a High Court judgment in December 2011 that mineral rights over a single area are indivisible and that Arcelor’s old order 21.4% stake is fully Kumba’s.

ICT are now out in the cold, although it finalised its appeal against Zondo’s ruling last week.

In July 2011, the Hawks raided ICT’s office and the department in Kimberley for evidence of fraud when the applications were made.

ICT has challenged the legality of the raids, and the seized materials are currently out of the Hawks’ reach.

* Got a tip-off for us about this story? Email [email protected]

The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism, a non-profit initiative to develop investigative journalism in the public interest, produced this story. All views are ours. See www.amabhungane.co.za for all our stories, activities and sources of funding.

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Before joining the amaBhungane team in 2017, Micah was the national coordinator for media freedom and diversity at the Right2Know Campaign. He holds a Masters in African Studies from Oxford University and a BA Honours in History from Wits University.

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