Brent Simons, who served as former minister Collins Chabane’s chief director in the presidency, testified at the Zondo Commission. Screengrab

Johannesburg - A former chief director in the presidency has disputed former president Jacob Zuma’s claims that former minister Collins Chabane may have “name-dropped” his name when he fired former GCIS boss Themba Maseko. 

Brent Simons, who served as Chabane’s chief director in the presidency, said he was shocked when he heard Zuma’s testimony in July at the Zondo commission. 

Zuma appeared at the commission in July and was questioned on accusations made by Maseko when he appeared last year. Maseko told the commission that he believes he was fired in 2011 because he would not assist the Guptas who wanted access to the GCIS’s R600 million advertising budget. 

Maseko detailed how he fought attempts by the Guptas, specifically Ajay, who became upset when he refused to agree to give the family access to the advertising budget. 

He told the commission that Chabane later called him and told him that he had been instructed to remove him from his role as the head of GCIS. Maseko said because Chabane felt pity for him he assured him that he would be taken care of. 

When questioned on this testimony, Zuma claimed that often people used his name for various reasons without his knowledge. He denied issuing the instruction for Maseko’s removal.  

“At times, people use the names of the president. I am sure you had a witness here which said he was lying. He never had any instructions from the president. I am sure that could happen with the ministers as well if the minister is finding it difficult to say to the DG,” Zuma said.

Simons said it was out of character for Chabane to “name-drop”. He said he was shocked by Zuma’s testimony. 

The former director told the commission that he had a close relationship with Chabane. He related a story from his trip with the former minister in 2014 when they were in Australia on an official visit.

He said Chabane confided in him about Maseko’s removal and that the instruction had come from Zuma. Simons said Chabane was still upset, three years later, that he had to remove Maseko as he was doing a good job.

“When the former president said the minister was probably name-dropping that was totally contradictory to the character of the minister. The minister was the minister in the Presidency and people had an amount of respect for that office. I thought the former president was not being truthful when he stated at the commission that the minister was name-dropping,” Simons said. 

Maseko was removed and replaced by Mzwanele Manyi as the head of GCIS. Manyi had a close relationship with the Gupta family and was accused of assisting the family in accessing a large amount of government advertising spend for their newspaper The New Age. 

Another former chief of staff in the presidency Abegnigo Hlugwani also appeared at the commission and spoke about Maseko’s removal. 

Hlugwani could not confirm that Zuma instructed Chabane to remove Maseko, but confirmed there was a phone call from Zuma’s office. He said after Chabane had spoken to Zuma a few days later Chabane commented saying “We will have to move Themba”.

Chabane died in a car accident in 2015.