DAYS OF ZONDO

Jimmy Manyi to Zondo: ‘I was a pawn in the process’

By Rebecca Davis 7 November 2019
Caption
Mzwanele Manyi came out guns blazing at the Zondo commission on Wednesday 6 November, saying he felt as if he had been summoned to face an ‘ambush’ and that he objected to being ‘crucified’. (Photo: Gallo Images / Netwerk24 / Felix Dlangamandla)

Mzwanele ‘Jimmy’ Manyi is never one to shy away from a fight, and on Wednesday he put up a fierce one at the Zondo commission. Manyi questioned why he should have to testify about State Capture at all since he had no part in it — and also denied having tried to solicit private business from the Norwegian ambassador while working for government.

I was a pawn in the process. Why are you calling a pawn? Why don’t you call the people who were playing the chess?”

These were the questions fired at Judge Raymond Zondo by former government communications boss Mzwanele ‘Jimmy’ Manyi at the start of his second appearance before the commission of inquiry into State Capture on Wednesday.

Manyi came out guns blazing, telling the commission he felt as if he had been summoned to face an “ambush” and that he objected to being “crucified”.

The former Government Communications and Information System (GCIS) head had been called before the commission again in order to help connect some dots regarding his sudden appointment to GCIS in 2011. Manyi was given the post as a replacement for Themba Maseko, who has told Zondo that he believes he was suddenly shuffled out of his position due to his refusal to channel government ad-spend to the Guptas’ The New Age newspaper as former president Jacob Zuma wished.

The replacement of Maseko with known Zuma loyalist Manyi caused some consternation at the time because Manyi had been on “special leave” from his position as the director-general of the Department of Labour and was facing numerous charges of wrongdoing.

Manyi objected that he could not speculate as to why he had been transferred from labour to GCIS in this fashion, as he was merely the “subject” of these decisions.

Because Manyi replaced the apparently high-performing Maseko, Zondo informed him soothingly, “it becomes necessary to understand your own transfer”.

Manyi claimed little knowledge of why he, an official potentially about to be fired from the government for misconduct, would be chosen to replace a GCIS boss — Maseko — who had received a performance score of 114% at his last appraisal.

He stood by his previous testimony to the commission that he believed that the transfer may have been orchestrated as a result of the “fallout” between himself and erstwhile Labour Minister Membathisi Mdladlana.

Manyi dismissed the charges that he was facing at the time of his transfer as mere “allegations”, relating to “frivolous operational” matters.

Evidence leader Kate Hofmeyr refreshed his memory as to one of the disciplinary charges against him, relating to his tenure as the director-general of labour.

The matter in question, she reminded him, prompted an embarrassing diplomatic contretemps between the South African government and the ambassador of Norway at the time, Tor Christian Hildan.

In 2010, Manyi held a meeting with Hildan to discuss possible employment-creation projects by Norway in South Africa. After the meeting, the Norwegian diplomat complained to Labour Minister Mdladlana that Manyi had tried to solicit business for himself, and had also recommended that the Norwegians contract him as a BEE consultant.

Manyi has always been adamant that this claim is baseless and vehemently repeated his denials to the Zondo commission on Wednesday.

He told the inquiry that the Norwegian ambassador had expressed confusion over South Africa’s BEE requirements.

I say: ‘I can assist with that, it’s a subject I understand very well’,” Manyi recounted.

It turns out at the end of it all, that this ambassador took the wrong end of this offer to assist him. He tried to conjure it as some sort of commercial activity of sorts I was trying to solicit from him.”

Nothing could be further from the truth, claimed Manyi. He was merely trying to give the Norwegians — for free — the benefit of his expertise on this topic.

I was actually on my prime on these issues of transformation,” Manyi said. “This was my space.”

Back in 2010, the Norwegians were so perturbed by Manyi’s alleged conduct that they approached DIRCO Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane after failing to receive an adequate response to their complaint to the Department of Labour. The matter was seen as hugely embarrassing in South Africa’s diplomatic circles, with one official telling the Mail & Guardian at the time that they were concerned that it would provide the impression to foreign governments that “the South African government will bring in third parties who will benefit from deals”.

It was in the context of this additional diplomatic pressure that Manyi was suspended from his position at the Department of Labour.

Yet Manyi remains adamant that he has nothing to regret.

To be charged for trying to be a good citizen of the country is frivolous,” he told the commission, before upgrading “frivolous” to “malicious”.

He confirmed that at the time he was transferred to GCIS, he had not yet faced a disciplinary hearing for this or other charges of misconduct.

Earlier in his Wednesday afternoon testimony, Manyi had pre-emptively addressed the speculation that he had been chosen by Zuma as Maseko’s replacement as GCIS head in the belief that he would be more likely to do the Guptas’ bidding and channel government’s R600-million annual advertising spend to The New Age.

Under his stewardship of GCIS, Manyi said, “the money paid was around R250-million to The New Age in total” — over a number of years.

In his first year as GCIS head, Manyi said the Guptas received only about R8-million in government advertising money, and about R7-million in his second year.

It’s a far cry from R600-million,” Manyi said, adding: “In not one of those transactions, there’s an issue of irregularity.”

Manyi’s testimony before the Zondo Commission continues on Thursday morning. DM

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