It was a very insightful first week back for the commission of inquiry into state capture, when it resumed its public hearings on Monday after a month-long break. Between the testimonies of former public enterprises minister Barbara Hogan and former government spokesperson Mzwanele Manyi, South Africans were given a lot to think about.
Hogan did not hold back on detailing events that occurred in her 18-month stint as minister – events that contributed directly to the breakdown of the relationship between herself and former president Jacob Zuma, and led to her removal from Cabinet in late 2010. Zuma’s interference in the appointment of leadership in state-owned enterprises (SOEs) – which fell under Hogan’s portfolio at the time – drove a wedge between the pair, both of whom have deep roots in the ruling party.
If Zuma was not imposing a compromised Siyabonga Gama on Hogan and the Transnet board, he was unilaterally making decisions about the future of Eskom and its then CEO Jacob Maroga, at a time when the latter was not on good terms with the board of the power utility. On her last day of testimony on Wednesday, Hogan decried the culture within the public service, of devaluing competent, hardworking public servants in favour of cadre deployment. A case in point, she said, was the lack of consideration for the contribution that Sipho Maseko would have brought to Transnet. Maseko was recommended by the board, but subsequently overlooked while Gama’s fate was being debated between Zuma, the board and Hogan. Maseko later withdrew his candidacy, and now leads Telkom. Gama was investigated by Transnet for allegations of misconduct relating to a major contract while CEO of its freight rail subsidiary Transnet Freight Rail – he was later cleared, and became Transnet group CEO in 2011.
Similarly, it was Zuma who insisted on Eskom retaining Jacob Maroga, despite the view of the board that he was not meeting the strategic requirements of the company. Maroga, however, sealed his own fate when he insulted Hogan and the board in a letter. After receiving the go-ahead from Zuma to return to his post following a period of special leave, he wrote that he reports only to Zuma and no one else. The ANC intervened and Maroga was removed.
South African Airways (SAA) too did not escape interference, according to Hogan. She shed some light on how a lucrative route of the carrier became an issue of contention when it appeared threatened with capture by an Indian-based competitor. Jet Airways began lobbying for the Johannesburg-Mumbai route some months before Hogan’s dismissal. Then SAA board chair Cheryl Carolus told Hogan there had been rumours for some time of the route’s possible termination. In her August testimony before the Zondo commission, former ANC MP Vytjie Mentor said the issue of the route had surfaced during a conversation between herself and businessman Ajay Gupta when he offered her Hogan’s position. Gupta allegedly told her at the time, also in 2010, that if she did become minister, she would be required to terminate the route.
Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, the commission chairperson, asked Hogan if she would be available to compile a report that could help direct the commission in its final recommendations. To this, Hogan agreed, citing the importance of change in the current business model defining the shareholder (government) role in the running of SOEs, as well as the protection and rehabilitation of whistle-blowers, who have been severely compromised, she said, by processes that should protect them.
Manyi takes the stand
As soon as Hogan was done, it was the turn of Manyi. The former CEO of Government Communications and Information System (GCIS) presented himself in response to a subpoena by the commission to clarify two issues in which he was implicated by his successor, Phumla Williams, in her testimony. Williams had reported that Manyi sent her a text message during a break in proceedings on her second day of testimony, to try to intimidate her out of implicating him in alleged irregularities at GCIS that facilitated capture of the institution. Manyi was also to clarify structural changes he allegedly made, which Williams said were not in the best interest of GCIS.
Manyi said he would not apologise for having sent the text, as he merely wanted Williams to emphasise that events she was referring to at that point in her testimony happened before Manyi joined GCIS. He wasted no time in slating Williams, questioning her intentions in testifying, as she clearly chose to omit important factors that she was privy to, with regard to the changes he brought. He likened the GCIS’s procurement structure to a “mini VBS”, where conflict of interest and irregular, fraudulent contracting occurred.
Events and their timelines, said Manyi, were important for the records of the commission. He then detailed the circumstances around a dodgy contract that was investigated – at his behest – by National Treasury, found to be irregular, and stopped. The contract, said Manyi, was worth R26-million, and the only document recording the relationship between GCIS and the contractor, had Williams’s signature on it. She had not been mandated in the role of signing off on contracts at the time.
Manyi returns to the inquiry on 23 November to answer to other questions, including his apparent role in the bankrolling of Gupta-owned TNA Media, at the expense of GCIS, during his tenure.
Nene and Mentor to return
As far as procedural matters go, three postponements were discussed in the week. First up was Duduzane Zuma, who arrived on Wednesday at the request of the commission. His legal representative Piet Louw brought forward a grievance that Duduzane had travelled from abroad to cross-examine former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas, while Jonas had applied for a postponement due to his unavailability. The commission granted the postponement, and he will appear on 26 November for cross-examination.
Further postponements were also granted for the return of Mentor and former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene. Mentor will reappear on 30 November to give more information on elements of her initial testimony that the commission has since investigated. Nene, on the other hand, applied for his postponement on medical grounds and on his doctor’s instructions, could only avail himself from January next year.
The inquiry resumes on Monday 19 November, with the expected testimony of public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan.