So little is known about Fana Hlongwane, a former freedom fighter who became an arms pedlar, that it is only the trappings of his wealth that sets tongues wagging in his tiny circle of powerful acquaintances and beautiful women. “Styles”, as he is also known, is renowned for his rap star-like lifestyle and his penchant for beautiful women, Cuban cigars and Dom Pérignon champagne.
Apart from being chairman of a large defence-and arms-related business, Hlongwane owns a 30% stake in LSM Distributors, the company that has exclusive rights to import Porsche vehicles to Southern Africa. It is probably not surprising, then, that the man has a luxury car for just about every day of the week.
His personal fleet includes a R4-million Lamborghini Murcielago, a R6-million Bentley Azure, a R1.6-million Porsche Cayenne Turbo FL, a R2-million Ferrari Spider, an R800 000 Mercedes-Benz convertible and a low-key BMW 3 Series that costs between R546,500 and R602,200. The cars are estimated to be worth at least R15-million.
Always the snappy dresser, he earned the nickname “Styles” from his days in exile. These days, he apparently has his shirts made specially for him in Italy. He is also believed to own a string of houses across the country, many of them registered under a company name. Two of these — one in Johannesburg’s Hyde Park, dubbed the “Playboy mansion” after the Hugh Hefner TV series, and the other at Zimbali Lodge in KwaZulu-Natal — are conservatively estimated to be worth more than R100-million.
According to previous reports in the Mail &Guardian, Hlongwane contracted a company in 2006 to install a cigar room and gym and renovate the patio and main bedroom in his Zimbali home for R1.1-million. This probably confirms why his house parties are generally the talk of the town, particularly among the pretty young women who crack an invitation. He is also known to belt out a tune or two while playing the grand piano at his Hyde Park home and is known to talk “affectionately” of the roses spread around his expansive garden.
Hlongwane rarely, if ever, attends any of Johannesburg’s highbrow functions and the only known photograph available of him is one taken in 1998 after he joined the board of Denel. He has, on occasion, been spotted at high-profile struggle veterans’ funerals, for which he reputedly paid. Among the various “Fana tales” doing the rounds is that he has several girlfriends at once, for whom he has bought fancy cars and who he has taken on lavish joint shopping sprees, including abroad.
Another story relates how, while having his hair cut, he saw a beautiful woman in the salon and paid the owner big bucks to close for two hours so he could woo her. He walked away with the woman, who was engaged, and is even alleged to have repaid her fiancé’s lobola.
Hlongwane eats at Johannesburg’s best eateries and some of Mandela Square in Sandton City’s more up-market bars and restaurants. He is sometimes spotted with a cigar firmly clenched between his lips, surrounded by women and ordering bottles of Dom Perignon Rosé. He also regularly hires private dining rooms at The Saxon boutique hotel, just down the road from his Johannesburg house, for business meetings. He is chairman of the Ngwane Defence Group, a black-owned company specialising in aerospace, military and security solutions. Its CEO is former army chief Siphiwe Nyanda, an influential member of the ANC’s national working committee.
The company sells, among other things, specialised military vehicles, sniper and assault rifles, riot-control gear and equipment aimed at emergency relief. Its board of directors includes former bigwigs in the SANDF as well as diplomat George Nene.
Hlongwane, who studied law in the former Soviet Union, is also listed as a director in a host of other companies relating to defence, manufacturing and healthcare. He left South Africa in the ’70s and became a ranking commander of Umkhonto weSizwe, living in several African countries including Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Botswana. It is here he is believed to have forged his close ties with the late Joe Modise, who signed most of the arms deals while defence minister in 1999.
Hlongwane returned from exile in the early ’90s and was part of the MK delegation that testified before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission about their activities in South Africa during apartheid. Prior to 1994, he was spotted at Modise’s side during the Codesa talks and later became his adviser. He was regarded as the main man between the government and the overseas arms dealers touting for business.
But he was found to have been playing both sides because one of his companies, Tsebe Properties, was listed as a shareholder in Osprey, the company used by BAE Systems as an agent to disburse commissions.
An official in the Department of Defence once said about Hlongwane: “Someone like Fana would see the money bags hanging in the air and immediately market himself, saying: ‘I am your man, I know everybody.’"
Fana: I'm squeaky clean
Businessman Fana Hlongwane has denied paying anyone to influence the awarding of contracts in the government arms deal.
"I did not participate in the decision-making relating to the procurements and can therefore not assist the commission in this regard," he told the Arms Procurement Commission, in Pretoria yesterday.
Hlongwane said he did not know of anyone who had been paid to influence the awarding of contracts.
Hlongwane, an adviser to the then defence ministerJoe Modise, has been at the centre of allegations about the multibillion-rand acquisition of Gripen fighter aircraft from British defence company BAE Systems and Swedish aerospace and defence company Saab.
In 2011, it was widely reported that Hlongwane could be the South African "consultant" who had received R24-million from BAE through a company called Sanip, formed by BAE and Saab.
Yesterday Hlongwane admitted that his company, Ngwane Aerospace, had signed a contract with Sanip in 2003 to act as a consultancy and assist Sanip in the implementation of its national industrial participation programmes. Such programmes were a condition for BAE Systems and Saab winning the arms contracts.
There was nothing untoward about the deal, Hlongwane said.
He said he did not have to justify the terms and conditions that Sanip and Ngwane Aerospace had agreed, or why he had been paid the amount he had been for work done lawfully.
"Contrary to popular belief, I was never appointed or requested by the minister [Modise] to participate in the [strategic defence procurement package] in any manner, shape or form."
Hlongwane slammed critics of the arms deal who had made allegations about his involvement with BAE Systems and his position as an adviser to Modise.
"[Before the commission] all of these 'critics' admitted unequivocally that they had no personal knowledge or any evidence to substantiate the allegations against me.
"Some of the critics refused to appear and testify, and be subjected to cross-examination."
The commission will continue next year.
A black man can be progressive – Fana Hlongwane
A middleman in the 1999 multi-billion rand arms procurement deal has told the Seriti Commission of Inquiry he fails to understand why he had been called to testify.
“Why am I here?” Fana Hlongwane asked the commission.
He said he did not understand why there was an issue over the funds, assumed to be millions, he was paid when he acted as a consultant for then defence minister Joe Modise.
It is up to two entities to decide on payment, Hlongwane told the commission.
“You cannot criminalise a businessman simply because of quantum,” he said.
He lashed out at critics who had claimed he was involved in corrupt activities which resulted in the massive payouts.
Hlongwane said they did this because they failed to understand that times had changed and a black man from Soweto could also be progressive.
“I do not support an inferiority mindset,” said Hlongwane.
“To make a confession chair,” he said referring to commission chairperson Willie Seriti.
“That’s why I was reluctant to come here.”
He claimed that when funds were pocketed by white people, these were regarded to be bonuses which were above board.
Throughout his testimony, Hlongwane said none of the key witnesses who had testified before the commission had provided any evidence supporting claims that there was corruption in the deal.
He said former president Thabo Mbeki and various Cabinet ministers who had testified had provided clear and unequivocal evidence.
“They rejected any suggestion of improper influence relating to the award or conclusion of any of the SDPP [strategic defence procurement package] contracts,” said Hlongwane, reading through his official statement.
“Apart from the fact that their evidence was clear on this issue, their evidence was never disputed,” he said.
He denied allegations that he or his company had had any influence on the arms deal.
“I can further categorically state that I did not pay any gratification to anybody who was involved in the procurement process in order to influence such person relating to the award or conclusion of any of the contracts awarded and concluded in the SDPP,” said Hlongwane.
The commission, sitting in Pretoria, is probing allegations of corruption in the arms deal.
At the time, the government acquired among other hardware 26 Gripen fighter aircraft and 24 Hawk lead-in fighter trainer aircraft for the air force, and frigates and submarines for the navy.
The commission was appointed by President Jacob Zuma three years ago.
Zuma recently extended the term of the commission until April 30 2015 after which it will be expected to issue a report within a six-month deadline.
Hlongwane, who was the last witness to testify, had been scheduled to deliver his testimony and cross-examination over the next two days.
He concluded his testimony today without any questions being posed from the panel and legal representatives.
No probe for arms deal middleman
Fana Hlongwane, the man said to be at the centre of the controversial multi-billion rand arms deal, escaped cross-examination when he appeared at the Seriti Commission on Thursday
Last month, lawyers for the arms consultant indicated that he was willing to assist the commission sitting in Pretoria and "wants to come and give evidence".
After being led through his statement by an evidence leader, lawyers participating in the commission said they had no questions to ask the former defence adviser.
Hlongwane's appearance at the commission had been anticipated amid allegations that he had received around R65 million in arms deal bribes when he acted as an adviser to the then defence minister, Joe Modise.
Hlongwane dismissed having any knowledge of underhand dealings during the procurement of the arms.
"I can further categorically state that I did not pay any gratification to anybody who was involved in the procurement process in order to influence such person relating to the award or conclusion of any of the contracts awarded and concluded in the SDPP [strategic defence procurement package]," Hlongwane said.
He had not participated in any decision-making process related to the procurement and could therefore not assist the commission in that regard.
"I can also state that I have no knowledge of the fact that any person who had been involved in the acquisition process had received any gratification relating to the award and/or conclusion of the contracts," he said.
He told the commission that none of the people who had testified about corrupt dealings in the commission had brought evidence to back their claims.
Hlongwane had been scheduled to give evidence over two days but he spent only around four hours before the panel.
He said the money he was paid was commission for services rendered.
Hlongwane lashed out at critics who had claimed that the funds he had received were unjustified.
He told the commission that when white businessmen signed deals and made good profits, it was celebrated as business acumen, but if a black businessman did the same, he was suspected of corruption.
"You cannot criminalise a businessman simply because of quantum," Hlongwane said.
"I do not support an inferiority mindset," Hlongwane said.
"That's why I was reluctant to come here," he told commission chairman Willie Seriti.
Thursday's proceedings got off to a late start as Hlongwane's lawyers tried to stop the media from taking pictures of their client during the proceedings.
Jaap Cilliers, SC, for Hlongwane, said publishing pictures of Hlongwane would infringe on his client's safety, privacy and the security of his family, and negatively affect his business.
Having cameras focused on him could also affect the way in which he delivered his testimony.
"Up until now, there has never been any publication of him in the press and he's able to move around freely," said Cilliers, highlighting the fact that his client was a "very private" person.
"If published, everyone in South Africa will recognise him and this will affect his family," he said, adding that previously threats had been made against his client.
After the media put up a fight, calling their lawyers for advice, Hlongwane abandoned his bid and walked into court with cameras flashing away.
"I apologise for the drama here before my arrivals. It's not that I'm not photogenic, but I'm a private person," Hlongwane told the commission.
Hlongwane was the last person to testify in the commission, before it breaks until next year.
The commission is holding public hearings into alleged corruption in the 1999 multi-billion rand arms procurement deal.
At the time, the government acquired, among other hardware, 26 Gripen fighter aircraft and 24 Hawk lead-in fighter trainer aircraft for the air force, and frigates and submarines for the navy.
The commission was appointed by President Jacob Zuma three years ago.
Zuma recently extended the term of the commission until April 30, 2015 after which it will be expected to issue a report within a six-month deadline.
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