Former president Jacob Zuma has told the State Capture Commission that he is tired of his family being crucified and of him being portrayed as the king of the corrupt merely because he knows things — as the ANC’s former head of intelligence.
He maintains he has done no wrong and that the commission, which is investigating allegations of fraud and corruption in the public sector, the role of the Gupta family and that played by him, is merely the culmination of an anti-Zuma narrative spanning nearly 30 years and which involves local spies and two (yet) unnamed foreign intelligence agencies.
His days as the ANC’s intelligence head have armed him with files including a list of names of former apartheid spies, and information about those who have been complicit in the alleged onslaught against him.
His protagonists have provoked him to such an extent, that Zuma, in a thinly veiled threat declared: “I have the list. I have other lists, too.”
During his first day of testimony, Zuma singled out former Cabinet ministers Ngoako Ramatlhodi and Siphiwe Nyanda, both of whom had provided critical testimony about him during their stints in the witness box.
The ANC, Zuma said, had given him certain tasks during the Struggle and that, he said, had allowed him to know “things” that others might not have known.
As a result, he said he believed that he was identified as a threat early on in the run-up to the country’s new democracy.
“There has been a drive to remove me from the scene. A wish that I should disappear.”
He told the commission about an alleged R20-million bid to drive him into retirement at Nkandla and a recent attempt to assassinate him at an event in Durban that he ended up not attending.
There was a plan, there were details, and they involved a “suicide bomber” and imported hitmen striking at a public event, he said.
From the arms deal to Nkandla, those forces — the unnamed international intelligence agencies working with unnamed local spies, he said — have over the years repeatedly tried to find ways to incapacitate him.
“This commission, from my understanding, was really created to have me coming here and perhaps, to find things on me.”
When the Gupta factor came into play, the Public Protector initially said there was no money, he said.
But National Treasury swiftly found the cash to enable Madonsela to investigate, “in a hurry”, before she vacated office, Zuma said.
Madonsela was responsible for the 2016 State of Capture report that implicated the Guptas, the former president and some members of his family.
The establishment of the State Capture Commission was a direct result of Madonsela’s investigation.
Yet, said Zuma, the commission is investigating only one arm of government — not the judiciary or Parliament — two other arms he believed would have had to be captured in order to justify the phrase State Capture.
Everything dealt with so far, he said, were general corruption matters.
Zuma was not asked about the multibillion-rand alleged corrupt deals at state-owned enterprises such as Eskom or Transnet or the role of the Guptas in those big-money deals.
But he did ask why this inquiry was called a “State Capture” Commission and not just a corruption commission.
‘Are the country’s judges captured? Is Parliament captured?’
He said through the use of the phrase, SA was sending a message to the international community that everyone in government, including opposition parties, were somehow captured.
This, he said, was not the case. Instead, the phrase is meant to enhance the anti-Zuma narrative.
“Why? Because I was the kingpin that they needed to get at?”
This commission, according to those pulling the strings, he said, “must be the grave of Zuma… he must be buried here”.
These claims were part of Zuma’s opening address at the commission on Monday where he appeared, not under subpoena as an implicated party, but rather through a negotiated arrangement — albeit one marked by an apparent tense and adversarial engagement between his legal team and that of the commission.
His senior advocate, Muzi Sikhakhane, kicked off with a stern objection to what he described as ambush tactics by the commission’s legal team, which had refused to provide Zuma with a list of questions to prepare for his appearance.
A seemingly frustrated Sikhakhane said he had no clue what Zuma was going to be saying during his spell in the witness box, nor who he would be implicating.
Zuma later named Ramatlhodi as an alleged apartheid-era spy. Ramatlhodi has since denied this allegation and challenged the former president to a public lie detector test.
‘The Guptas didn’t abuse me’
At the heart of Zuma’s appearance before the commission is his relationship with the Guptas. As he has done several times over the years, Zuma did not deny his family ties.
He said he had asked his friends, the Gupta family, to start a media company to neutralise the overtly critical South African press.
They liked the idea and got the ball rolling — allegedly with approval from the ANC’s top six and the party’s alliance partners, the SACP and Cosatu.
“People say they were abusing me, actually it was the other way around.
“There were no wrongs done, no laws were broken.”
The New Age newspaper and the Gupta-owned TV channel, ANN7, were a breath of “fresh air”.
The Guptas, he said, had briefed the ANC Top Six and the alliance as well as provinces about the media project.
And, like all newspapers, they also talked to people in government about advertising.
“What’s wrong with that? No, it’s because they are friends with Zuma,” he said as he sought to explain the controversy over the project.
Zuma’s memory seemed remarkable during his initial high-level overview of the alleged persecution he has endured over the years.
He recalled a BBC broadcast in a London hotel from nearly 30 years ago and how an alleged apartheid spy named “Ralph” sneaked out through the window of a building as his comrades came under attack during their years in exile.
But he has no recollection of calling former government spokesman, Themba Maseko in 2010, allegedly to help the Guptas, nor that the call happened on the same day that Maseko was asked to attend a meeting at the Guptas’ Saxonwold mansion to discuss how to help them bag a slice of government’s R600-million advertising budget.
Zuma says even if he had called Maseko, he would not necessarily have expected Maseko to automatically execute a request as Maseko was the accounting officer of the Government Communication and Information Systems (GCIS) at the time.
Asked if he had in fact called Maseko, why such a call would have been made, Zuma said if it had, this did not necessarily suggest that it was aimed at getting Maseko to do anything unlawful.
Instead, he said, it could just have been a request to help the Guptas — but only hypothetically, as he did not recall making the call.
Asked about claims by Maseko that Ajay Gupta had had information about the government’s exact advertising budget, Zuma said he had no knowledge of that.
It was possible, Zuma said, that the Guptas were just “taking a chance” in their quest to land business when they allegedly told Maseko they could summon any minister to explain themselves if they refused to co-operate.
Zuma says he could not comment on this apparent “confident” statement by the Gupta brother and added the Guptas would have had no power to do this.
Maseko was removed from this position shortly after allegedly having being threatened by a Gupta brother for refusing to help the family.
Commission chairman, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, invited Zuma to attend proceedings to present his version of various issues — in particular about claims made by Maseko, former Cabinet ministers Ramatlhodi, Barbara Hogan, Pravin Gordhan and Nhlanhla Nene, as well as former ministerial adviser, advocate Sam Muofhe, who previously testified that Zuma had offered him the post of the country’s National Director of Public Prosecutions.
Zuma’s evidence continues on Tuesday, 16 July. DM
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