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NEF claims allegations were a conspiracy

CEO Philisiwe Mthethwa says a disgruntled associate may be behind false charges of fraud and corruption.

NEF CEO Philisiwe Mthethwa says a disgruntled associate may be behind false charges of fraud and corruption. Picture: The NEF.

JOHANNESBURG - The National Empowerment Fund (NEF)'s chief executive Philisiwe Mthethwa says the allegations against her and two other staff, which were cleared on Monday, were possibly part of an ongoing malicious campaign against the NEF.

More than 20 allegations were investigated against Mthethwa, Divisional Executive of Venture Capital and Corporate Finance Hlengiwe Makhathini and Fund Manager Nhlanhla Nyembe.

They were accused by an anonymous whistle-blower of fraud, nepotism, tribalism and abuse of power, among other claims, but an independent investigation by Deloitte cleared them of all charges.

Mthethwa told 567 CapeTalk/Talk Radio 702's Bruce Whitfield on Tuesday night the NEF has its suspicions about who made the claims.

"We believe that she worked with some investing companies that are disgruntled with the NEF at the moment. We had taken one of the companies to court because they had defrauded the NEF in the past. We have been informed that she was also working with two employees who were dismissed by the NEF."

But Mthethwa, the wife of Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa, says she's still glad the investigation took place as it cleared her name.

"I have to put this on record: nobody's above the law. What was good about the investigation is that it has showed the world that it's not all black executives who are corrupt. So I'm actually happy that I was subjected to this kind of scrutiny."

But she warns there may be a trend of unsubstantiated allegations in South Africa, saying the situation could have been handled more sensitively.

"If we're not careful as a country, we'll end up not being able to deliver on our mandate. We had to put our processes and everything else on hold for six full months."

She says there is definitely a place for whistleblowers, "especially if there is fraud and corruption," but fears this role can be abused.

"The problem with us in South Africa is that we have allowed some of these whistleblowers to actually use this whistleblowing policy as an instrument of harming other people's characters and reputations."

Mthethwa says she's never done wrong, joking that being arrested by her own husband is the last thing she'd want.

"I've never stolen anything before. I've been in government for 16 years now."

At the same time, she said the empowerment fund is performing well, despite having R300 million written off last year, especially compared to many companies in the private sector.

She adds, the NEF's controversial decision to fund Khanyi Dhlomo's luxury boutique earlier this year was the right one.

"What Khanyisile's investment has done - for the first time - is allow a black woman to find space and participate in one of the key strategic sectors in South Africa. So it was one of the best investments for us."

Dhlomo received R34.1 million from the NEF to fund her upmarket retail store Luminance in Hyde Park.