Former City Press editor Vusi Mona, whose appointment as acting
communications head in the presidency was announced this week, is mired
in a bribery scandal playing out in an Mpumalanga court, write Stefaans Brummer, Monako Dibetle and African Eye News Service in the Mail & Guardian.

Mona is controversial for publishing spying allegations against former national director of public prosecutions Bulelani Ngcuka and for allegedly breaking the off-the-record rule to reveal details of a briefing by Ngcuka regarding then-deputy president Jacob Zuma.

Mona’s actions against Ngcuka may have recommended him to his new boss, but his appointment while the Mpumalanga matter remains unresolved flies in the face of Zuma’s recurrent anti-corruption rhetoric. Mona is implicated in the payment of substantial kickbacks to Stanley Soko, then-director general of Mpumalanga, and Ernest Khoza, then-chief executive of the Mpumalanga Economic Empowerment Corporation, six years ago.

The alleged payments followed the provincial government’s 2003 award of a R32-million public relations contract to a consortium in which Mona had an interest. Soko and Khoza are currently on trial in the Nelspruit Regional Court. They have pleaded not guilty to charges including corruption and fraud.

Although Mona has not been charged, his alleged role in the bribery scheme has been detailed in the charge sheet against Soko and Khoza and in testimony by Moss Mashamaite, Mona’s partner in the public relations venture.

The presidency this week said that Mona denied he was “part of any bribery or chain of events leading to the alleged bribery”.

Mona’s rise in journalism was meteoric. The rookie founding editor of Mail & Guardian sister publication the Teacher in 1996, he was appointed City Press editor in 2000.

He first courted controversy after Ngcuka briefed editors in July 2003 about criminal investigations into Zuma and Mac Maharaj, allegedly saying he would convict Zuma “in the court of public opinion”. Mona circulated details although the briefing was allegedly off the record.

Six weeks later Mona published a story, later the subject of the Hefer Commission of Inquiry, saying Ngcuka had probably been an apartheid spy. The story was brought to City Press by then-reporter Ranjeni Munusamy, whose own publication, the Sunday Times, had refused to run it.

The Hefer commission later trashed the story and Mona, saying in its final report that Mona “was forced to make one damning concession after the other” and that “his credibility had been reduced to nil”.

Mona left City Press in late 2003 following a conflict-of-interest investigation by his employer, Media24, into his undeclared participation in the Rainbow Kwanda Communications consortium, which won the Mpumalanga PR contract.

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