Jacob Zuma slams Maseko's testimony on Gupta influence
Johannesburg - Although he admitted to playing a major role in the establishment of the now defunct The New Age and ANN7 news channel owned by the Gupta family, former president Jacob Zuma vehemently denied trying to facilitate a meeting between ex-government spin doctor Themba Maseko and the Guptas to help prop-up their media house through government advertising spend.
Zuma made the remarks while testifying before the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture in Parktown, Johannesburg, on Monday.
He denied calling Maseko and asking him to help the Guptas, who allegedly sought to obtain a sizeable chunk of government's R600 million advertising budget.
"I do not remember making this call...so in isiZulu, I usually say "mfana kithi" and not "mfo ka baba". Also on the issue of owners [Guptas] wanting to talk to the departments, it is natural they would want to talk to him [Maseko] but I do not remember making that call," he told evidence leader Advocate Paul Pretorius.
The commission's chairman, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, asked him: "Do you mean it might have happened but you do not recall?"
Zuma replied: "Yes, precisely."
Maseko took the stand at the commission last year, detailing a phone call he allegedly received from Zuma in 2010, requesting him to "assist" the Gupta family after The New Age newspaper was established.
Maseko said he would not be coerced into diverting public funds during a meeting with Atul Gupta at the family's Saxonwold mansion, and that Zuma subsequently told a minister to make sure that Maseko exited his position at the Government Communication Information System (GCIS).
Pretorius asked Zuma: "Did you have any idea that Gupta was going to this length to secure advertising? Maseko seemed to think this was an improper approach...do you agree?"
The former president said he had nothing to do with what Gupta talked about with Maseko.
"I am sure asking for a chunk of budget was probably inappropriate...but Gupta can explain that, I won't go into that because I wasn't there," he said.
Following his dismissal, Maseko and 26 other former director-generals wrote a letter to government, calling for an inquiry and raising concerns that corrupt practices were having a "negative impact on the capacity of the state to provide quality services and [were] eroding public confidence in public institutions."
Pretorius asked Zuma if he knew about the letter. Zuma said he received many documents during his presidency and did not remember the letter.
The commission has set aside this week to hear Zuma's testimony.
His first day at the commission included Zuma presenting an opening statement that lasted over an hour, in which he claimed there were plots to kill him and how he and his family suffered continued public attacks for decades.
He alleged that several people in his organisation, the African National Congress, worked with international intelligence agencies to get rid of him as he "knew too much" from his days as the ANC's intelligence chief.
Among them, allegedly, was former uMkhonto weSizwe general Siphiwe Nyanda, who "gave a hug" to an arrested spy that had tried to kill him, and former minerals' minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi.
Zuma said Ramatlhodi was once recruited as a spy by the apartheid government while studying in Lesotho.
Zuma offered no evidence to back the claims.
Ramatlhodi issued a statement rebuffing Zuma's allegations. He challenged the former president to take a public polygraph test with him to unearth the truth.
Zuma's testimony continues on Tuesday.
African News Agency (ANA)