Home Headline Zondo Commission hears how ministers surrendered control to private citizens

Zondo Commission hears how ministers surrendered control to private citizens

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The ongoing Zondo Commission of Inquiry into state capture makes for entertaining, if sometimes terrifying expositions of SA’s descent into corruption.

Explosive revelations into the belly of the ANC, captured ministers who relinquished their authority to private citizens, and a dramatic request for a recusal, made for a hectic week at the commission of inquiry into state capture.

Corruption Watch reports that the week started slowly as former National Treasury spokesperson Phumza Macanda testified. She, like former department colleagues before her, told the commission of an arrogant, overbearing Mohamed Bobat, who joined the department briefly in December 2015 as advisor to the new finance minister Des van Rooyen. Bobat wanted to dominate every aspect of Treasury’s operations, often crossing the line of authority, according to Macanda. For the two days that he and Van Rooyen were in the department, before the minister’s removal by former president Jacob Zuma, the advisor created a hostile environment for staff. Macanda is now with Absa Group.

Then came the turn of Mzwanele Manyi (pictured), the former head of government communications and information system (GCIS), who appeared after a subpoena by the commission. Manyi was thought to have interfered with the testimony of his successor, acting GCIS CEO Phumla Williams back in August, when he sent her a text message while she was still under oath. The message referred to an error he said she had made in her testimony regarding timelines of events at the communications agency. He was summoned to explain himself, as well as respond to key matters mentioned by Williams in her testimony. Williams has accused Manyi of making irregular decisions during his tenure, favouring the Gupta-owned New Age newspaper for government advertising that was overseen by GCIS.

Manyi defended his actions regarding the text message and his managerial style at the time, saying he in fact brought order and accountability measures to the agency where none had been before. His only reason for sending the message to Williams, he said, was to correct one point of inaccuracy in her account of events. The rest of his testimony, led by the commission’s advocate Vincent Maleka, was used to dispel what Manyi said were conclusions by Williams and the media that thanks to him, the New Age enjoyed an advantage other publications.

By the start of the second day of his testimony, it was clear that Manyi and Maleka were at loggerheads. Manyi took exception to what he said was a prosecutor’s approach by Maleka, and requested the chairperson, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, to ask Maleka to recuse himself from leading Manyi’s evidence. Zondo presented options for the way forward, saying Manyi could either submit an application with reasons, on which Zondo would rule, or Maleka could offer to hand over the process to another lawyer, for practical reasons. A brief adjournment followed while the options were explored, only for Manyi to return with a change of mind. He said he wanted to continue testifying, if only Maleka would refrain from his aggressive tone. Manyi’s testimony proceeded after Zondo cautioned Maleka.

Mining minister Gwede Mantashe followed straight after Manyi, with a carefully crafted response made in his capacity as national chairperson of the ANC, to the testimony of banks that had closed the Gupta family’s business accounts. Mantashe acknowledged the banks’ accounts of events, including meetings held at ANC headquarters Luthuli House in 2016, but denied that these were a bullying tactic. The ANC, in fact, was asked by Gupta-owned Oakbay Investments through CEO Nazeem Howa to enquire from the banks why they took the action that they did.

The party’s approach to the matter, he said, was inspired by the plea to help save over 7 000 jobs that would be affected by the closures. Their mandate, carefully thought out within the party’s internal structures, was to understand the environment within which the financial institutions made the decisions. When they were told by the banks that industry regulations and ethical practice meant that they could not discuss private client details with a third party, the ANC’s top six delegation produced a report that they forwarded to Cabinet to handle the matter. Answering leading questions from Zondo, Mantashe was careful not to divulge too much over the decision-making processes relating to how the party handled matters involving the Guptas.

The very next day, however, party veteran and former minister of public service and administration Ngoako Ramatlhodi dropped bombshell after bombshell, frankly naming and shaming participants of state capture. According to him, Zuma’s relentless defence of his friendship with the Guptas was a big point of contention within the NEC. Whenever the subject came up in meetings of the party’s leadership, Zuma would tell NEC members that because the family helped his family out when no one else would, he was indebted to them.

Ramatlhodi’s former advisor Sam Moufhe also told of incidents that raised eyebrows. While he and Ramatlhodi were in the department of mineral resources, then Eskom chairperson Ben Ngubane and CEO Brian Molefe tried to bully the two of them into interfering in a mining deal between Gupta-linked company Tegeta and Glencore. Their failure to do this, he believes, was one of the factors that led to Ramatlhodi being moved to the public service department, and replaced by Mosebenzi Zwane, who is regarded as being close to the Guptas.

Closing off the week, another ANC veteran Cheryl Carolus also told of the policy deviations by then minister of public enterprises Malusi Gigaba in the affairs of South African Airways, of which she was chairperson from 2009 to 2012. Carolus claimed that Gigaba relinquished authority to India-based Jet Airways, which wanted to take over the lucrative Johannesburg–Mumbai flight route, despite resistance from the airline’s leadership.

In sharing her insight into the leadership struggle within her party over the last several years, Carolus said she looks forward to the changes that will come to the party after the departure of Zuma.

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