Johannesburg - Two top ANC leaders who served in former president Jacob Zuma’s Cabinet on Thursday recounted how he kept quiet when allegations of the influence of the Gupta family over him were first revealed by Fikile Mbalula.
Former minister in the Presidency Trevor Manuel and former Communications minister Siphiwe Nyanda testified before the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into state capture on allegations that the Guptas had prior knowledge of Cabinet changes before ministers were appointed or fired.
Manuel detailed how Mbalula, a former sports minister, cried during an ANC national executive committee (NEC) meeting in 2011, complaining that the Guptas had in 2010 summoned him to the family’s Saxonwold compound and congratulated him for being promoted from deputy Police minister to Sports minister by Zuma.
This was before Zuma made his massive October 2010 Cabinet reshuffle or told Mbalula about his intention to appoint him to his Cabinet.
“When it came to the opportunity for Mbalula in that meeting, he became very emotional.
“What he articulated in the NEC was that he was called to Saxonwold to be told by the Guptas that he was going to be appointed as the minister of Sports and Recreation. He said he was at first very excited about making it into the Cabinet, but in retrospect it should never have been the Guptas or anybody else who told him that,” Manuel said.
The former Finance minister said that despite the explosive allegations by Mbalula, Zuma avoided the topic during the meeting.
“At that time it seemed there was a climate where certain individuals were invited to Saxonwold, not only Mbalula, but he was the first to make that declaration. This was the first confirmation which was in the form of an emotional statement about how he had been appointed,” he said.
Nyanda, who was fired with another six ministers by Zuma in the same Cabinet reshuffle, said the revelations by Mbalula confirmed the influence of the Guptas over Zuma and the government, which was then being speculated about.
“In the midst of the undercurrents that were afoot at that time about the influence of the family in the affairs of government, it was for me the confirmation that this was the case,” Nyanda said.
He said Zuma’s failure to respond to Mbalula was also proof that he did consult with the Guptas about intended Cabinet changes.
“Here is something serious that is being alleged by a member of the national executive and it is directed specifically at the president. One would have expected him to respond but he did not, even in his closing remarks,” Nyanda said.
Manuel - Finance minister from 1996 to 2009 - has accused Zuma of repurposing the role of the state and entrenching patronage after he took over as the head of state.
He said he did this by bloating his Cabinet and by firing recalcitrant ministers and replacing them with people who were more pliant.
“I don’t have the slightest doubt that that is what transpired with the removal of (former Finance minister) Nhlanhla Nene in 2015 and his temporary replacement with Des van Rooyen, who arrived with advisers in tow and who spent the previous week visiting the Gupta house every day,” he said.