Former Government Communication and Information Systems head Mzwanele Manyi takes the stand at the state capture inquiry. Picture: Dimpho Maja/ African News Agency (ANA)

JOHANNESBURG - Former GCIS boss Mzwanele ''Jimmy'' Manyi defended his support for The New Age (TNA) newspaper, saying it brought in an editorial stance different from the rest of the country's media houses.

Manyi confirmed that he encouraged government departments' directors-generals to utilise TNA.

''When the issue of TNA came, it fitted very well with what government was trying to do. Also, government had infrastructure to help with its development. TNA was a welcomed move... it brought in different editorial stance which was not hostile to government, at the time, there was an onslaught [by other newspapers] on government. The posture of TNA was a complete opposite...its view was that the glass is 'half full' instead of its 'half empty', and it was reasonably priced in terms of advertising too,'' the former Government Communication and Information Systems (GCIS) boss said.

''What I liked about TNA was its creativity and innovation on reporting in all provinces. It was a useful publication as government generally has a problem. Newspapers say they are not a conveyor belt for government but watchdog.''

Manyi took the stand for the second time at the state capture commission of inquiry on Monday, reiterating again to first lead his own evidence instead of being asked questions by advocate Vincent Maleka. 

He told commission chairman Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo that he does not have legal representatives and would like to map out his own reply to questions sent to him by the commission's legal team.

Manyi, who later became the owner of the now-defunct TNA and ANN7 news channel then again tore into current GCIS boss Phumla Williams' testimony and showed Zondo an article in the Daily Maverick published in 2013. 

The journalist had questioned Williams about the purpose of the TNA breakfast events. In the article, Williams replied that the breakfast events allowed ministers and the president to be accessible. Williams testified that she was pressured to give a go-ahead for the TNA events.

''As you can see chairperson, that was Williams responding about breakfasts...and on this point [TNA] it seems we did not differ. She came to this commission with a certain posture...saying she was being bullied but if you read this article, you will realise that this is a person who believed in this TNA.''

Zondo asked Manyi whether Williams was responding to the journalist's inquiry in her personal or professional views as a government official.

''I am asking that because as a GCIS official she had to reflect the GCIS position at that time. If I happen to speak as a deputy chief justice, I might not speak on my personal views...I would reflect the position of the judiciary... and later when I am no longer deputy chief justice, I could say that that was the official position I had to convey, and now that I am no longer justice this is my personal view?'' 

Manyi said the response was clearly someone ''articulating a government position''.

He then spoke about newspaper circulation, and said he encouraged government not to use ABC media circulation figures. He said the big four media houses were a “cabal”. The TNA did not look at circulation but readership, he said.

''One newspaper in a house would be read by 10 people, for an example. So their [ABC] focus was audience reach.''

He added that ''the notion that TNA got more than their fare share is not true''. Manyi said SABC, Naspers and Tiso Blackstar received more than anyone else in the 2012/13 financial year in terms of government ad spend.

TNA was established by the fugitive Gupta family in 2010. He took over at GCIS from Themba Maseko who was fired, allegedly for not doing the Guptas bidding. 

Maseko was under pressure from the Guptas to channel R600 million in government advertising spend to the family's TNA. He was then fired and replaced by Manyi. 

In 2017, Manyi's Lodidolox acquired ANN7 for R300 million and The New Age for R150 million from the Guptas through vendor financing. The companies were liquidated this year following a decline in heavily relied on government advertising and non-payment of staff.

Earlier, former National Treasury spokeswoman Phumza Macanda told the commission about the impact of Nhlanhla Nene's axing as finance minister in 2015. 

Macanda testified how Des van Rooyen, who replaced Nene for all of four days, told her and then director-general Lungisa Fuzile that he had his own media statement and that officials need not worry about drafting one. 

The rand had plummeted and billions of rands of investments wiped off the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) in the wake of Van Rooyen's appointment. 

''In the face of tumbling markets, our expectation was that the minister would work with us and allow us to draft the media statement, which is a consultative process at Treasury. There was almost a sense of shock at Treasury that morning...we didn't know what to do.''

Macanda left Treasury for Absa bank in 2016.

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African News Agency (ANA)