Former cabinet spokesman Themba Maseko at the commission of inquiry into state capture ready to testify. PHOTO: Getrude Makhafola/ANA

Johannesburg - Public servants and officials who were put under pressure to bow to the needs of the controversial Gupta family find it difficult to testify because they fear possible reprisals and losing their jobs, former cabinet spokesman Themba Maseko told the commission of inquiry on state capture on Wednesday.

He and 26 other former government director generals penned a memorandum in 2016 calling for the establishment of a judicial inquiry into state capture. The signatories included African National Congress (ANC) stalwart Frank Chikane, who is a former director general in the office of the former president Thabo Mbeki.

Evidence leader Vincent Maleka asked Maseko if he knew anyone who could assist the commission with more information on the influence of the fugitive Guptas and their experiences. Maseko said the idea behind drafting the memorandum was to encourage more public servants to come forward.

"I do believe there are a number of senior civil servants and middle managers who have had experiences with a number of individuals including the Gupta family, This could also be due to the conduct of their political bosses - ministers, [members of the executive council] MECs and premiers - and opt not to come because of fear of retaliation losing their jobs and retaliation...and generally the country's unwillingness and inability to support those who want to come forward," he said. 

"I may not be able to give you names, but in the process leading to drafting memorandum, a number of director-generals did come forward and talked about their experiences with the Gupta family and the conduct of their political principals," said Maseko.

"The idea behind drafting the memorandum was to get more people to come forward but unfortunately, we [as former director generals  found ourselves in the same situation as you chairman [Raymond Zondo]...very few people were willing to come forward and speak out."

He said if the inquiry happened at the time the memorandum was made public, some of the top officials would have appeared to state their case.

"Because there was no action then, I think the issue just faded away."

Commission chairman Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo told Maseko that it seemed the director-generals were people of courage and were prepared to take a certain stand "which might not have been popular" at the time, and maybe need encouragement to appear and testify.

Maseko replied: "I think so, the political climate has somewhat change. At the time, a lot of them were willing to come forward... and at the time, those who spoke up were dealt with and left the public  service."

The memorandum was addressed to the then president Jacob Zuma, his then deputy Cyril Ramaphosa, previous finance minister Pravin Gordhan and former public service and administration minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi. 

Ramatlhodi revealed later in 2017 that former Eskom boss Brian Molefe and former board chairperson Ben Ngubane put pressure him to help the Guptas take over Glencore’s coal mine in 2016, while he was mineral resources minister. He said he refused. Ramatlhodi was then fired and replaced with Gupta loyalist Mosebenzi Zwane.  

Maseko said many top officials would privately complain that they were forced to flout procurement rules in favour of the Guptas. 

Maseko then spoke about a group of intelligence heads who wrote a letter expressing concerns about the Gupta family's "significant influence". 

"I believed the head of intelligence used a phrase that went 'the Gupta family are becoming a security risk for the country...' and what we saw was what I might call an unprecedented move where all heads of intelligence services were removed from their positions. I think there could be lots of evidence showing that those who spokes out at the time were removed and ended up jobless."

Maseko first came out publicly about undue influence by the Guptas when he alleged that he became under pressure to channel the GCIS [Government Communication Information Systems] advertising budget to the family's The New Age newspaper.

Maseko alleged that he received numerous phone calls from the Guptas in 2010  to come to their Saxonwold compound for a meeting. On the day he finally agreed to meet the Guptas, he alleged that Zuma allegedly called him and ordered him "to help" the Gupta family. 

Maseko narrated the phone call from Zuma, in which the former president spoke in isiZulu and said: "The Gupta brothers need your help, please help them".

When he seemingly took his time with the issue, Ajay Gupta called him and threatened to "sort him out". It was also alleged that Gupta said: “… tell us where the money is and tell departments to give you money; if they refuse we will deal with them. If you have a problem with any department, we will summon ministers here.”

Maseko was then replaced with Zuma loyalist Mzwanele Manyi in 2011. Maseko was one of the witnesses interviewed by former public protector Thuli Madonsela as she investigated state capture allegations against the Guptas and their associates.

Zondo instructed the commission's legal team and investigators to contact the former director-generals and see if they could come forward and testify.

African News Agency/ANA