Johannesburg - The first brush ambassador Yusuf
"Jojo" Saloojee had with the law was as a youngster in Roodepoort, on
Joburg’s West Rand.
Together with a group of friends including the late struggle
activist Ahmed Timol, Saloojee went to Joburg by train, carrying a stolen exam
When a conductor approached the youngsters, they burnt the
paper to hide the evidence. This led to Saloojee’s first encounter with the
This week, Saloojee was suspended as ambassador to Iran for
He has now been named in a US court as the middleman in
telecoms giant MTN’s attempt to get a licence to operate in Iran, which was to
become its second-biggest market.
The allegations were levelled against him by former MTN
Group [JSE:MTN] executive Chris Kilowan, who claimed in a deposition before a
US court that, as South Africa’s ambassador to Iran, Saloojee took R1.4m from
MTN as a reward for his efforts to help them secure the contract.
The money was allegedly channelled through Kilowan, who has
since left MTN, and paid to lawyers who in turn paid for a mansion in the
exclusive Duiwelskloof estate in Pretoria, where Saloojee's wife still lives.
Saloojee is a struggle stalwart who joined the South African
He became a teacher in Roodepoort, but a close childhood
friend said he didn’t specialise in any subject: “Those days you taught what
they wanted you to teach, you didn’t have choices.”
He left in the 1960s and went via Zambia to Canada, where he
built the anti-apartheid movement from scratch and eventually served as the
ANC’s representative there.
In 1990, as democracy neared, he returned to South Africa
and shared lodgings with former deputy foreign minister Aziz Pahad in Mayfair,
Parties were in abundance and Jojo, as a close friend of
Thabo Mbeki and Essop Pahad, was
often seen at hang-outs with civil-society types discussing
the new South Africa.
Jojo was posted to the United Arab Emirates as ambassador in
1998, starting a tour of the Middle East that would only see him return for the
long term when the MTN scandal broke.
His time as ambassador was not without controversy. In 2001,
he was accused of sexual misconduct by a female passenger aboard a Singapore
Airlines flight. The woman was sleeping in her business-class seat when Saloojee allegedly sexually assaulted her.
It was also alleged that when confronted by the crew and the
woman, Saloojee swore at the woman and called her a racist.
He survived the scandal and was again called up for
diplomatic service, this time in Iran.
During his tenure, MTN needed help - they wanted to tap the
biggest market in the Middle East, but Turkish company Turkcell had beaten them
Through a set of negotiations between MTN and the Iranian
government, Saloojee organised and attended meetings with MTN executives to
give them strategic advice on who to talk to and what to say.
One of his friends said: “We called it economic diplomacy.
You are expected to help South African companies do business. Even ministers
would do that.
“People call you to attend events where there are
businesspeople and you do it because you recognise how important it is.”
But it seems Saloojee went too far. He desperately needed
cash to buy a house for his wife, who wanted to leave Tehran, and had to find
It’s claimed that he approached Kilowan, who allegedly
sorted it out for him - fast.
Today Saloojee is better known in diplomatic circles, and by
ordinary South Africans, as the ambassador who was bribed.
And, if the allegations against him prove to be true and his
suspension becomes a dismissal, he will earn yet another title: as the man who
put South Africa’s foreign policy up for sale.
» Saloojee and Kilowan were asked for comment, but did not