Valencia Talane is a writer at Corruption Watch.
Several serious allegations have been levelled against members of the Gupta family since the commission of inquiry into state capture commenced its public hearings in August last year. From planting ministers in strategic departments and diverting a part of the state budget to their own private business, to offering senior ANC members ministerial posts in return for favours, witnesses have not held back, and there is most likely more to come. Former president Jacob Zuma is named directly in some of these claims, for having either allowed the Guptas’ conduct, or encouraged it.

While the Guptas have used the media to emphatically challenge some of the claims against them, they have yet to appear in front of the commission’s chairperson, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, to defend themselves, save for an affidavit submitted by the eldest brother Ajay, in which he refutes claims made against him of improper influence. Zondo denied their application for permission to cross-examine some of the witnesses via a video link, as the brothers were not prepared to return to South Africa from their new base, Dubai, in order to cross-examine in person.

Ministerial posts up for grabs

This week, former ANC MP Vytjie Mentor’s evidence was tested by the commission’s Mahlape Sello as well as the lawyers for former Zuma chief of staff Lakela Kaunda and Hawks senior official advocate Mandla Mtolo, who were implicated by Mentor. Kaunda was said to have invited Mentor to a meeting with Zuma in 2010, which actually turned out to be with Ajay at the Gupta family home in Saxonwold, while Mtolo is alleged to have coerced Mentor into removing Zuma’s name from the statement she originally made to the Hawks in 2016 regarding his involvement in the Guptas’ improper conduct. At the Saxonwold meeting, Mentor claimed, Ajay offered her the post of public enterprises minister, which she refused.

In August, former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas made the same claim against Ajay, saying he offered him the post of finance minister in 2015, at the time occupied by Nhlanhla Nene. His evidence and that of Mentor were the basis for the Guptas’ application to cross-examine. Jonas said he was offered R600-million if he agreed, and that the offer was made in the presence of Zuma’s son, Duduzane.

The younger Zuma would later be named in the testimony of Ngoako Ramatlhodi, former minister in the Department of Mineral Resources, in November. Ramatlhodi told the inquiry of the attempted bulldozing of departmental policies on mining by the Guptas. He too believed that his removal was due to his refusal to bow to pressure, and cited incidents where Ajay, Duduzane and then Eskom chair Ben Ngubane, threatened to report his lack of interest to the former president, inferring that their conduct had his blessing.

Ramatlhodi was replaced by Mosebenzi Zwane, former MEC of agriculture in the Free State, who oversaw a dairy farm project that would later become the subject of a corruption investigation, in which the Guptas were implicated. That case is still under investigation as charges against several Gupta-linked suspects were withdrawn owing to the improper handling of certain aspects by the National Prosecuting Authority.

Zuma has to date not filed a statement denying any of the allegations, nor has he applied for permission to cross-examine witnesses.

Went for treasury

Former director-general in the National Treasury, Lungisa Fuzile, revealed in November how he was allegedly told by ANC bigwig Enoch Godongwana in December 2015 that the department was “getting a Gupta minister”, just hours after Zuma fired Nene from that post.

Des Van Rooyen’s brief stay as finance minister played out like a comedy on the one hand - when it became obvious that he did not know the ‘advisors’ who arrived at the same time, mixing up their names and roles on more than one occasion. On the other hand, Van Rooyen seemed to be out of his depth, immediately challenging some of the department’s longstanding traditions, and the financial markets responded negatively to this.

The two advisors were Mo Bobat and Ian Whitley. Bobat was responsible for leaking a classified document meant specifically for Cabinet, to third parties outside government. The nature of this information, said Fuzile, was such that if it ended up in the wrong hands, crucial information about strategic financial decisions and government plans could be compromised. Bobat e-mailed the document to, among others, Eric Wood, the CEO of Trillian, a consultancy company that has been found to have enjoyed alleged irregular relationships with government entities.

In a meeting with Jonas in the midst of the confusion, Fuzile was told he was among four obstacles Jonas would have had to remove, if the latter had accepted the offer from Ajay. The others were Ismail Momoniat, was in control of a division that developed tax policy and measures to curb money laundering; Kenneth Brown, the chief procurement officer, and Andrew Donaldson, who headed up the government technical advisory centre.

“One of the advisors was from mineral resources (department). There was a connection between what the Guptas wanted, and what the president wanted, and was doing,” Fuzile said.

It was partly his show of resistance towards the Guptas, Nene told the inquiry when he testified in October, that led to his dismissal. He resigned shortly afterwards, as it turned out that he had previously lied about not meeting the Guptas.

Government business for New Age

Former head of the Government Communications Information System (GCIS) Themba Maseko was among the first witnesses to testify, and told the inquiry that despite his attempts to alert Zuma and then deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa to attempts by Ajay Gupta to influence procurement decisions within GCIS, nothing was done. He was instead, asked by Zuma on one occasion, to “help” the Guptas.

“My brother, there are these Gupta guys who need your help, please help them,” Zuma allegedly told Maseko shortly before he was scheduled to meet Ajay in 2010 to talk about government advertising in the New Age newspaper. This short conversation, held just as Maseko was making his way to the meeting, sealed his fate. Months later he was fired for not honouring Zuma’s wish, and replaced by Jimmy Manyi.

According to Maseko, Ajay wanted him to re-channel the GCIS’s R600-million budget towards the New Age. GCIS would get these monies from different departments to facilitate placement of content in the media. When, during a meeting with an adamant Ajay, Maseko refused to do this, he was told he must do it, and if he encountered problems with departments, he would just have to report this to Ajay. According to Ajay, Zuma would speak to any minister who did not co-operate, and they would be “summoned to Saxonwold and sorted out.”

Jan Gilliland, a senior official within Treasury, testified that the Guptas got just under R250-million in payments from government for its media companies, TNA Media and Infinity Media over a period of seven years between 2011 and 2018.

* Valencia Talane is a writer at Corruption Watch.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

The Sunday Independent