Former President Jacob Zuma appears at the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State capture. Picture: Nokuthula Mbatha / African News Agency (ANA)

Johannesburg - South Africa's former president Jacob Zuma denied vehemently that he pushed for Siyabonga Gama to be appointed Transnet CEO in 2009 over Sipho Maseko who was recommended by the Transnet board.

Barbara Hogan, a former minister of public enterprises, told the state capture commission of inquiry last year that she pleaded with Zuma to not appoint Gama who at the time faced serious misconduct charges at the state-owned enterprise.  

She said she had written a memorandum to Zuma detailing the Transnet board's decision to appoint the experienced and highly qualified now Telkom CEO Maseko to replace Maria Ramos. In her testimony, Hogan said an initial decision taken at the time was to search for a candidate from within Transnet. 

Gama, who headed Transnet Freight Rail at the time, was then put forward to take over as CEO. However, an internal investigation had unearthed evidence of misconduct against Gama, and this concerned the board, chaired by Fred Phaswana at the time. She said current Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan was once considered to head Transnet but later withdrew his candidacy and became finance minister shortly thereafter. The board then had to search for the best candidate outside Transnet and were satisfied with Maseko's competency after interviews were conducted.   

In a meeting with Zuma, Hogan said she updated him on the process of appointing the CEO and the inquiry that implicated Gama, but was met with resistance from the former president who wanted Gama ''and no one else.''  

The Commission's evidence leader Advocate Paul Pretorius read out Hogan's testimony and asked Zuma if remembers Hogan's memorandum to him. Zuma replied and said there were many memorandums that landed on his desk.

"I read it but it was a report like all other reports," said Zuma.

He denied telling Hogan that Gama was his preferred Transnet candidate.

"I do not remember saying this...I could I say this when someone [Gama] was charged with serious charges and insist 'no, take this person'. I do not remember insisting on this. It can't be...we do not work like that. As I said, there is a process which determines that, I wouldn't have said this. Not at all."

Commission chairman Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo asked for a straightforward answer from Zuma as to whether he did not say such to Hogan or did not remember what he said.

The former president replied: "I didn't say this because it would undermine the processes. At that level of consultation with the minister, I might have made inputs but that does not determine the final decision...a product of the process. I can't say 'this is my person that's it'...it doesn't work like that."

Advocate Muzi Sikhakhane then rose to his feet, blasting Pretorius and Zondo for questioning Zuma on the Transnet CEO appointment.

"This is poor... I know you said I can't tell you about how to do your jobs but I will now. I don't think it's fair to ask someone who was head of state to tell you the process of appointing people when you have Annexure D in front of you, telling you the process you are looking for."

Zondo told Sikhakhane that sometimes processes are not understood, and the questions were posed to Zuma in order to understand those processes.

Sikhakhane replied: Chairperson, and what does that have to do with fraud and corruption?"  

Said Zondo: "It is possible that his understanding of the process differs from what's laid down here."

Sikhakhane repeated that "this is poor" because the commission has documents spelling out processes.

"I just told you...you might have law that says this is the process, and have an individual who sees things otherwise," Zondo told Sikhakhane, who then returned to his seat.

African News Agency (ANA)