Those who decried Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo’s sonorous tone, for turning day one of the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture into a big yawn, must confess that they were quick to pass judgment.
After the testimony of former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas on Friday, they must surely reckon the fireworks - and there are plenty - will not come from the commission chairperson but from those appearing before him in Parktown.
Jonas set the tone for the bombshell evidence still to be read into the record. Taking his time to deliver his testimony, Jonas could easily have been reading from a crime thriller.
Before the commission adjourned for lunch, many in the audience gasped audibly as if Jonas was reading a John le Carré novel - only these were his own words, not fiction.
After much wringing of hands and twisting of arms, Jonas agreed to tag along to this, by then, mysterious rendezvous. The names he named were not reel characters. They were real, with names like Duduzane Zuma.
Jonas says former president Jacob Zuma’s son, Duduzane - the blue-eyed boy of the corruptors - picked up the deputy minister in a two-door Mercedes-Benz.
He was driven to the Gupta mansion in Saxonwold where, in a meeting that would promptly convene, Duduzane kept back, albeit still in the same room, with Fana Hlongwane, an arms deal character, seated like a lackey as the Gupta brother Jonas would later confirm to be Ajay came into the room.
Like dialogue straight out of a Hollywood movie, Jonas was warned: this meeting never took place.
Still think the Zondo Commission was boring?
The Gupta brother talked on and on: “He was like a radio.” He continued to mouth Marlon Brando-like lines: Jonas was there so they could “check him out”, “see if you can work with us”.
The young Zuma and Hlongwane sat throughout the meeting “like they never existed”.
Talk about black men who knew their places.
Gupta told Jonas, among many Tinsel Town titbits, that “we are in control of everything”.
And they were, at the time, powerful enough to offer people cabinet positions.
The purpose of the meeting was to make Jonas the minister of finance after then incumbent Nhlanhla Nene was kicked out.
In a line that has now earned Jonas hero status, said in a statement he released on March 16, 2016, the then deputy minister said he rejected the offer “out of hand”.
What is a movie plot without million dollar figures?
Jonas repeated to the commission what is now part of the country’s state capture folklore: he was offered R600 million to take the job.
An on-the-spot carrot of R600000 was dangled. He was asked if he had a bag to stash the loot in.
Duduzane, “we made him a billionaire”, sat quietly when Jonas was told “we control everything the old man will do anything we tell him to do”.
Any boy proud of his genes would have registered disquiet at such a blatant disrespect shown to his father. Jonas told Zondo, “I was shocked and angered”.
He is likely to have been sitting there with his prim and proper private school manners and toothpaste ad smile.
The down-payment offered to Jonas was so that he could clean up National Treasury, get rid of a few stumbling blocks the Guptas wanted out of the way, including Lungisa Fuzile and Ismail Momoniat.
A man of principles, Jonas made to stand up and leave.
What does the Gupta mafioso do?
He threatens to kill Jonas.
He subsequently appraised Nene of the impending doom and gloom.
When Nenegate finally happened, the then finance minister said in an SMS to Jonas: “the axe has fallen.”
Hollywood has nothing on South African state capture.
Nene’s sin was his reluctance to sign off on the nuke deal. Jonas says: “The pressure on us from Zuma to approve the deal was immense.”
After leaving Saxonwold, Jonas fired off an SMS to Hlongwane, warning him sternly “never to do that ever again”, compromising him the way he did.
Seated in the audience as Jonas relieved the horror was Pravin Gordhan, who succeeded Des van Rooyen, Nene’s replacement as finance minister. Gordhan spoke to The Sunday Independent off the record, giving the commission the nod.
Jonas is not known for his sense of humour but he gave those within the range of his voice a lot to chuckle about on Friday.
He says when he asked President Zuma how Van Rooyen would deal with the financial markets, which were reacting to Nene’s axing, the former head of state said: “You are there to help him.”
Former ANC MP Vytjie Mentor also sat in the audience. Her testimony promises to be more damning on the so-called Zupta empire than Jonas’s.
She curtly told this reporter she had nothing to say before her own appearance before the commission but that she had absolute faith in the process “otherwise I’d not be here”.
Cope MP Dennis Bloem was beside himself with glee, hugging and reminiscing with Mentor. “Those implicated must go to jail.”
Even if he had designs on a Hollywood career, Jonas couldn’t have made up half of his testimony.
It may well be that the first witness of the Commission, National Treasury procurement chief Willie Mathebula, lacked the gravitas to get the proceedings off a fantabulous start.
Jonas did it; Mentor will definitely open the can of worms even further.
Boring, what boring? Not the Zondo commission.
The Sunday Independent