Despite being on sick leave but not being ill at all, Deputy President David Mabuza spent 15 days in Russia for 'routine' medical treatment.
These revelations seem to have foiled an attempt to implicate him in an elaborate murder plot featuring an alleged hit list contained in a diary and an imposter claiming to be Mabuza's niece.
According to an affidavit by Mabuza's special advisor, former crime intelligence boss Mulangi Mphego, Mabuza was in Russia from October 24 until November 10, a total of 17 days.
Allowing for a day's travel either way, this means Mabuza was in Russia for 15 days for what his office has tried to explain as a routine medical check-up.
Mphego attached a scanned copy of Mabuza's passport showing his entry stamp at OR Tambo International Airport as November 10, although his departure and entry stamps into Russia are not shown.
An earlier entry stamp dated, October 17, at Waterkloof Air Force Base is believed to show Mabuza's return from a working visit to South Sudan, Uganda and Kenya where he held bilateral talks from October 14 to 17 .
The Sunday Times reported over the weekend that Mabuza was receiving treatment as he was still ill following an alleged poisoning incident in August 2015.
Mabuza previously told the Sowetan that he was poisoned during his birthday celebrations in Bushbuckridge, Mpumalanga. He was quoted as saying he had been hospitalised for three months and that he had "almost died".
"Even now I still have a problem, I cannot stand for a long time," he told the paper last year.
A well-placed source with direct knowledge of events, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed to News24 that Mabuza was indeed in Russia for further treatment relating to the 2015 incident.
"The reality over why he goes to Russia ... at the time he was hospitalised in serious hospitals in Johannesburg and Pretoria, they could not find out what was wrong with him."
The source gave the name of a prominent Johannesburg hospital where Mabuza spent a month in 2015. News24 has reached out to the hospital for comment and will update this story once received.
"But they just couldn't get him better. They were hysterical. He only got better when he went to Russia."
"Sometimes he loses feeling in his fingers and toes and he experiences general body pains. But he works hard, he really tries. He is still very sound of mind, that much I can tell you," the source said.
Meanwhile, Mabuza's spokesperson Thami Ngwenya was quoted as saying that Mabuza was on sick leave, but he was not ill.
"At no point in our statement did we say that the deputy president is ill. There's a difference in there. We said he was on sick leave, so he was attending to his medical health. But to say he's gravely ill and sick, those are two different things," Ngwenya said.
Fake assassination plot?
Mphego's affidavit was filed in response to an urgent court application brought by Mpumalanga businessman Fred Daniel, who sought an urgent interdict against Mabuza and two other men alleged to be assassins intent on murdering Daniel.
Daniel is the owner of the Mpumalanga eco-tourist attraction Cradle of Life, and a business partner of ANC stalwart Dr Mathews Phosa.
Since 2009 Daniel and Mabuza have been embroiled in a public spat that finally ended up before the Carolina Magistrate's Court earlier this year. Daniel's application was a bid to confirm an interim protection order he had obtained against Mabuza, who he claimed was behind a plot to intimidate him and sabotage his business.
His application in Carolina was dismissed, with the magistrate accusing Daniel of fabricating evidence. Daniel has launched proceedings to appeal and review this decision, arguing that the magistrate had not given him a fair opportunity to testify.
Daniel filed papers in the North Gauteng High Court on Friday afternoon after a woman claiming to be Mabuza's niece contacted him on November 6, 2018, claiming that she had proof of a plot to assassinate him.
In a sworn statement, 'Thandeka Mabuza' claims to have stumbled upon a hit list in her uncle's diary on November 6, 2018. A page from Mabuza's diary was the alleged 'proof' of an assassination plot orchestrated by the deputy president.
After making the discovery, Thandeka approached the Democratic Alliance in Mpumalanga on the same day, ostensibly to blow the whistle on the conspiracy.
The Thandeka statement claims that on Monday November 5, 2018, two men arrived at Mabuza's Johannesburg home [his home is in Pretoria] whom she recognised and identified as 'gangsters' from her hometown in Mpumalanga.
Mabuza allegedly met the men on the morning of Tuesday November 6, 2018 and that later that day, while cleaning Mabuza's study, Thandeka claimed to have found an entry in his diary marked 'HIT LIST'.
Daniel's number and the word 'Badplaas' was among seven other numbers and addresses, two of which were already crossed out and the men confirmed they were heading to Badplaas the next day - where Daniel's home is.
The statement then details how she attempted to contact Daniel to warn him over the plot but when she could not get hold of him, she travelled to the Democratic Alliance offices in Nelspruit for their assistance.
News24 understands that members of the DA assisted her and put her in touch with a City Press journalist, who in turn made contact with Daniel.
Daniel explained in his papers that he believed the threat on his life was imminent, sparking urgent interventions by officials from the Hawks and crime intelligence to ensure his safety.
But Thandeka's story quickly fell apart.
She vanished off the radar on Friday after meeting Daniel in Nelspruit the day before. She was ostensibly on her way to meet him at the North Gauteng High Court when she stopped answering his calls. Court documents show how her disappearance sparked further fears that she may have been intercepted along the way.
It has also since emerged that Mabuza was not in the country and therefore could not have attended the meeting at his home as she alleged, rubbishing claims of the alleged meeting between Mabuza and the hitmen that 'Thandeka' witnessed.
"I confirm that [David Mabuza] does not have a niece and/or assistant named Thandeka Mabuza and has never met such a person. This is a complete fabrication," Mphego's affidavit reads.
"Pertinently, Ms Mabuza's references to a meeting between [David Mabuza] and the two men referred to in her statement are also a fabrication as [David Mabuza] was in Russia at the time of the alleged meeting."
In light of Mphego's affidavit and questions over the true identity of Thandeka, Daniel has removed his matter from the urgent court roll while his legal team assesses the new evidence.
Who is Thandeka Mabuza?
Since the statement surfaced on Friday, News24 has done extensive work to verify the claims.
'Thandeka Mabuza' is in fact a young woman of roughly the same age named Nomfundo Sambo.
Consumer databases revealed a cellphone number for Sambo, which linked to a Facebook profile. Sambo's profile picture was sent to Daniel and others involved in the case, who have confirmed to News24 that the woman in the Facebook picture is the same woman who claimed to be Thandeka Mabuza.
She was traced through vehicle ownership records linking to the white VW Polo she drove to the Mpumalanga legislature to meet the DA members.
When contacted on Tuesday, Nomfundo denied that she had pretended to be Thandeka and gave News24 a cell phone number to call Thandeka on. She claimed that 'Thandeka' was her friend.
The number she gave was the same 'Thandeka' had used to contact Daniel and others last week, but was switched off. Nomfundo's phone was subsequently also switched off.
Daniel has vowed to get to the bottom of this 'conspiracy'. He plans to file supplementary court papers once he has amended an attempted murder case opened at the Sandton Police Station against Mabuza and the other two men.
He now plans to include a fraud and defeating the ends of justice charge against Nomfundo Sambo.
A screenshot of Nomfundo Sambo's Facebook profile.
Mabuza's spokesperson Thami Ngwenya had not responded to a request for comment by the time of publishing.