Lucky Montana, the former CEO of the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa), is punching everyone’s ticket. That of the ANC and its former Treasurer-General Zweli Mkhize, ex-Prasa board chair and now Deputy Finance Minister Sfiso Buthelezi, President Jacob Zuma’s son Duduzane, and the Guptas. It was a high-speed testimony delivered to the parliamentary State Capture inquiry on Tuesday. By MARIANNE MERTEN.
It started innocuously. The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa’s (Prasa’s one-time CEO Lucky Montana was before the parliamentary State Capture inquiry to refute the “uncomradely”, “untruthful” and “unfair” comments of former Transport Minister Ben Martins, now Public Enterprises Deputy Minister.
In early November 2017 the deputy minister publicly took exception to testimony by suspended company secretary Suzanne Daniels, who linked him to a meeting with the Guptas at Melrose Arch, Johannesburg. Martins denied this meeting, or “tea party” as he called it, and went on the attack as to how the inquiry was conducted by evidence leader Advocate Ntuthuzelo Vanara, as had his political boss, Public Enterprises Minister Minister Lynne Brown.
Between 6 and 14 November 2017, Martins issued two media statements critical of the parliamentary inquiry that had failed to give him the opportunity to give his version of events – that date was set for late 2017, but Martins failed to show up and after being threatened with a subpoena agreed to testify on Wednesday – and also held a media briefing. But there he admitted he had met Rajesh (also known as Tony) Gupta at his ministerial house, with Montana.
No, that’s not how it went down, Montana has maintained since then. On Tuesday it was his turn to tell MPs directly his own version. It was he who got a call from Martins, then his political boss as transport minister, and so he went to see him.
“Tea was served… Two gentlemen arrived. I never met them before. (Martins) introduced me to Duduzane Zuma and Tony Gupta.”
But there was more to come down the tracks. The two gentlemen at that meeting in September 2012 at the ministerial Pretoria residence were “interested” in the Prasa rolling stock tender. Montana said he did not deal with this as he was on his way to Berlin for an international gathering that happens every two years. There, he was informed that “they” had gone to rolling stock manufacturers asking for money, also invoking the name of President Jacob Zuma.
The “they” was later spelt out as “Rajesh Gupta, Duduzane Gupta – Zuma, Zuma, my apologies”, and the “Indian chap, I don’t know the name”, who in Montana’s subsequent testimony was identified as the person who dropped off two CVs for Salim Essa, an identified Gupta business associate, and his former business associate who served on the Transnet board, Iqbal Sharma, for inclusion in the Prasa rolling stock evaluation committee.
“I was furious,” Montana told MPs under oath, the first witness without a lawyer present. And then it was his turn to request a meeting with Martins, as he also put his concerns of interference in a letter in September 2012 to then Prasa board chairperson Sifiso Buthelezi of “concerning developments” that made doing his job difficult and “attempts to extort money from international rolling stock manufacturers” who had shown interest in the Prasa rolling stock programme.
After a stint as an MP, Buthelezi was appointed Deputy Finance Minister in that controversial midnight Cabinet reshuffle in March 2017 alongside Malusi Gigaba – who previously headed the public enterprises and home affairs portfolios – as Finance Minister. They replaced Pravin Gordhan and his deputy Mcebisi Jonas, who earlier publicly said that the Guptas in 2015 had offered him the job to replace then Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene, who was removed in what has become South Africa’s 9/12.
It’s complicated. But Montana’s take on State Capture sees Prasa and its multibillion-rand tenders to replace ageing trains and locomotives at the heart of it.
“Prasa became a major battleground for political forces and vested economic interests all fighting for control and the right to influence the award of its tenders. There were the Guptas and their associates, who used underhanded, unlawful methods to achieve their goals… The Guptas and their associates were resoundingly defeated in 2012 but unfortunately, they were not the only ones,” according to Montana’s statement to the parliamentary State Capture inquiry.
Enter then ANC Treasurer-General Zweli Mkhize, whom Montana put on the line as a key mover from 2014 with then Transport Minister Dipuo Peters in changing the Prasa board. “The two, with the support of other unnamed officials at Luthuli House, were key to the appointment of the new Prasa Board that served their interests,” said Montana in his statement to the parliamentary inquiry.
By that time China South Rail, linked to Gupta businesses and associates, had missed out on the 600 new trains tender that went to French company Alstom – in July 2017 the first 20 six-carriage trains manufactured in Brazil were delivered, according to a statement on the company’s website – but Transnet was still looking to renew the fleet of locomotives. That tender ultimately did go to China South Rail as reported in June 2016 by amaBungane and Scorpio.
At an official government meeting Peters made comments to the effect that South Africa “could not be dictated to by the French”, similar to comments made by Mkhize at a separate meeting at a posh Sandton, Johannesburg hotel. “Dr Zweli Mkhize was furious with me for rejecting his demand in a meeting held in a Sandton hotel early in 2014. He demanded that 10% of R465-million of the first payment that was due to Swifambo Rail Leasing in terms of the (locomotive) contract, be paid to him. Like we did with the Guptas, I rejected this demand as unlawful and stated firmly that it will not be done,” Montana said after telling MPs there had been other meetings.
In 2017 the North Gauteng High Court declared that R2.6-billion tender irregular and set it aside. On Tuesday at Parliament there was that moment when State Capture bombshells hit close to the political home of the ANC MPs. “You are courageous. You are a fighter,” said EFF MP Marshall Dlamini: “Zweli Mkhize confirmed the ANC took Gupta money (at the public hearings into party-political funding regulation).”
Appearing before Parliament’s ad hoc committee on party-political funding last year, Mkhize acknowledged that the ANC had received money from the Guptas, but argued that so had the DA. “Did Guptas donate, yes. They did. Did they donate to the DA, yes they did,” he told MPs then.
Requests for comment to the ANC and Mkhize went unanswered on Tuesday. According to parliamentary rules testimony under oath before MPs cannot be used in criminal or civil prosecutions, although Rule 168 provides for perjury charges.
“We are so traumatised and we need counselling. What we are hearing is heartbreaking”, said ANC MP Zukile Luyenge towards the end of the day’s proceedings. Other MPs across the political spectrum had welcomed Montana’s contribution also as “passionate” and “major”.
Montana is not uncontroversial. In 2015 he tendered his resignation, which the board accepted with immediate effect instead of the contractual three months’ notice, as the first inklings of procurement irregularities emerged. Also in 2015, then Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s “Derailed” report highlighted his role in financial mismanagement, including the appointment of security services, the termination of a cleaning contract and spending R170,000 on a women’s Blue Train trip.
Questions have been raised about the number of properties he owns – five, not nine, as he’s flipping houses to make money, as he told MPs – and exactly why Prasa would have given him a firearm. His life was at risk, he was certified to carry a firearm and it was handed back to Prasa when he left.
Out of a government job, in 2016 Montana took that public protector report on review to court. And he stayed engaged and enraged, including writing to National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete after a Prasa briefing. And he wrote to David Mahlobo, then State Security Minister, after several people followed him to his home amid what he described as a sustained surveillance campaign that contravened seven intelligence laws. “His office acknowledged receipt,” Montana said.
His reason? “I’m emotionally invested in a big way,” explained Montana, telling MPs at least three times that he had a contribution to make to the country which has given him skills, experience and training.
“I am happy I not only fought the Guptas,” said Montana, arguing that he fought corruption from this side and that, including vested black business interests. “My own comrades who wanted to steal themselves did worse things… As we speak of renewal we take measures to deal with the corrupt on both sides.” DM
Photo: Lucky Montana, the former CEO of the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa), in Parliament on Tuesday 30 January 2o18. (A video grab from the SABC live stream)
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