Former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas testified at the judicial commission of inquiry into state capture. Photo: Matthews Baloyi / African News Agency / ANA

Johannesburg - Former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas on Friday outlined how he and now public enterprise minister Pravin Gordhan were isolated and operated in a hostile political environment as allegations of state capture against former president Jacob Zuma and the Gupta family surfaced.

Testifying in the judicial commission of inquiry into state capture, Jonas said it was not easy to trust anyone as the criminal justice system at the time was in crisis. The entire Treasury and then cooperative governance minister Gordhan were isolated politically and from government business. Gordhan remained Jonas' confidante following a R600 million bribe he alleges the Gupta family offered him in return for favours if he was promoted to Finance Minister. 

''We were never informed about anything, we would be told late at night while in bed to wake up and watch television [for new developments]. We were isolated. The functioning of Treasury suffered a knock, confidence in the ministry was lost as we were isolated.''

He said the removal in December 2015 of Nhlanhla Nene as finance minister, whom Zuma replaced with Des van Rooyen, dealt a blow to South Africa and wiped out billions of rands worth of investments. 

''The markets tumbled, billions were lost, the rand weakened...the country took a downward trend from there.''

Commission evidence leader Phillip Mokoena asked Jonas: ''Tell us, how did that affect the credit ratings?''
Jonas replied: ''The ratings were very bad. We were probably in the worst state as a country since the dawn of democracy. I don't think we have recovered from that. The situation was aggravated, I think, by the talks to take out debt to finance the nuclear deal...we [Treasury] believed that South Africa could not afford nuclear as it was structured. It was not justifiable or ethical to raise that huge amount of debt for our future generation [to grapple with].''

Van Rooyen, an ANC backbencher at the time, was replaced four days later with Gordhan following significant public pressure on Zuma. Zuma later fired Gordhan and Jonas in 2017.

Jonas's legal representative Wim Trengrove was told by commission chairman, deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo, that he would need to apply to the inquiry if he needed to cross-examine his client. 

"I would think that, probably, clarification questions could be passed on to the inquiry's legal team. I am open to persuasion,'' said Zondo.

Present at the inquiry were Gordhan, former ANC MP Vytjie Mentor and former Sars spokesman Adrian Lackay.

Earlier, Jonas outlined shocking details of a meeting in October 2015 at the Gupta family's Saxonwold compound in Johannesburg, arranged by Zuma's son Duduzane.

The former deputy finance minister said at the meeting, fugitive Ajay Gupta told him that Nene would be fired as finance minister and Jonas would get the post if he agreed. Gupta offered him R600 million to ''stash away in any account'' or bank in Dubai. Jonas said he was offered a pre-payment of R600 000 on the spot by Gupta as he stood up to leave for a flight to Cape Town, but said he did not want the money.

As he walked out, Gupta followed, asking him: "'Do you know who you are dealing with? You think this is illegal? It is legal...look at the moment, we make R6 billion from state companies, we want to grow it to R8 billion. Treasury is a stumbling block to our growth.''

He then allegedly threatened Jonas against reporting the meeting.

''This meeting did not happen say anything to anyone, if you suggest (this) meeting occurred, we will kill you,'' Gupta allegedly told Jonas. 

African News Agency (ANA)