Acting government communications spokesperson Phumla Williams testifies at the state capture inquiry. Photo: Nokuthula Mbatha /African News Agency/ANA

CAPE TOWN - The acting chief executive of the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) Phumla Williams on Friday told the Zondo inquiry into the state capture scandal that her former boss Themba Maseko's removal from his post at short notice had a devastating effect.

Williams, whose permanent position is deputy director general of GCIS, said she had never in more than two decades in the civil service seen a senior official replaced with such haste.

"I have never seen it, I was in public service since 1994," Williams told Kate Hofmeyr, the evidence leader in the probe into the biggest scandal in post-apartheid South African politics.

After informing colleagues that he was being transferred to the department of public administration, Williams said Maseko asked his staff to begin packing up his affairs. Maseko was replaced on the same day by Mzwanele "Jimmy" Manyi.

Williams said because she occupied the office next to Maseko's, she went to speak to him but found him with his head bowed. 

"I could see he was not going to speak," she said, adding that later in the day, however, he told her he was calling off plans to purchase a house.

Asked about the impact on the office, Williams said: "The impact was massive, the level of discouragement.... it was a complete culture, I think we found ourselves with our heads spinning trying to figure out what was going on and nobody was prepared to give us an explanation."

She said Maseko had been accessible to all colleagues, regardless of their job description, while Manyi "made quite a number of changes not consistent with our culture".

Maseko earlier this week testified before the inquiry that Ajay Gupta, one of the brothers at the centre of the scandal, had ordered him to channel GCIS's R600 million advertising budget to the family's media holdings.

He said Gupta asked him to inform him if any ministers resisted, so that he could tell then President Jacob Zuma to deal with them.

Maseko said he objected to Gupta speaking of ministers in that manner, upon which the businessman shot back: "No, that is how the system works."

Maseko, who was highly respected as a government spokesman, was forced out of the post a few months later.

Williams on Friday went on testify about her difficult relationship with Faith Muthambi, who served as communications minister during Zuma's second term in office. Within Muthambi's first month in the portfolio, Williams said, she received a letter from the minister informing her that she was unhappy with her work.

Williams said she was shocked, and went on testify that Muthambi also insisted that she be addressed as "Honourable Muthambi" at all times.

When she pointed out to the minister that this was not accepted protocol, their relationship deteriorated to the point where she raised the minister's demand with Zuma, who chuckled and said he would "'attend to the matter". 

Williams said she also objected to an instruction from Muthambi to involve former communications department member Gift Buthelezi in the work of GCIS without doing the proper paper work, warning the minister that this was illegal.

Williams said she was demoted by the minister, stripped of the responsibility of acting as Cabinet's spokesperson and ordered to pay back R35,000 paid to her in line with government guidelines for acting as CEO.

"She said I was helping and therefore I didn't deserve to be paid."

African News Agency (ANA)