Judge Raymond Zondo may not have received a wealth of useful information as the commission he chairs held its proceedings on Monday — but he did walk away with an unusual early Christmas gift from a witness.
Former labour minister Mildred Oliphant concluded her testimony at the State Capture inquiry by informing the judge that she had a “Christmas present” for him.
In a cryptic yet meaningful tone, Oliphant said: “Chairperson, during Christmas Day can you please read Johan [sic] 29:11 and also Exodus chapter 1 from verse 13”.
Judge Zondo politely instructed the commission staff to note down the relevant passages for him.
If the judge went home on Monday night bent on a little biblical exegesis, he would soon have remembered that John — or Johan — 29:11 does not exist. He might have concluded that Oliphant was referring instead to what is sometimes called “the internet’s favourite Bible quote”, Jeremiah 29:11.
Judge Zondo would also have discovered that the Exodus passage to which the former minister had directed him is an account of the ill-treatment visited upon the Israelites by the Egyptians.
What message Oliphant was trying to send through her biblical sub-texting is above the paygrade of Daily Maverick’s amateur theologians. But it was the sole flash of individuality on display in a morning of testimony from Oliphant in which she presented herself as an almost robotically dutiful cadre of the ANC, obediently mouthing party mantras like: “It’s the ANC that deploys and redeploys”.
Deployment and redeployment was the topic of the day at the State Capture inquiry on Monday, with the focus returning to the shifting around of two government officials: the removal in 2011 of GCIS head Themba Maseko, and his replacement with suspended director-general of labour Mzwanele “Jimmy” Manyi.
Maseko was a top performer who says he was axed because of his refusal to co-operate with the Guptas. Manyi was a well-known ally of former president Jacob Zuma who had shortly beforehand been dismissed from his job over allegations of fraud and improperly soliciting personal business from Norwegian diplomats.
On Monday, the Zondo commission heard from two former Cabinet ministers whose positions placed them at the heart of the matter at the time: ex-labour minister Oliphant, and the erstwhile minister of public service and administration Richard Baloyi.
Oliphant had been summoned to cast light on the manner in which Manyi was transferred from her Department of Labour to the top job at GCIS despite the misconduct allegations hanging over his head.
But Oliphant claimed only limited knowledge of the events in question, saying that by the time she was appointed as minister of labour in October 2010 Manyi had already been suspended from the department.
Manyi had claimed to the Zondo commission that he had met Oliphant at OR Tambo airport directly after her appointment and discussed with her his belief that he had been unfairly treated.
“No, I didn’t meet with him,” Oliphant told the commission. “I didn’t meet with Mr Manyi at the airport… I can say it’s false.”
Oliphant’s recollection is that she was alerted to the Manyi situation — with the axed DG threatening court action — by her fellow minister Baloyi. On his advice, and after Oliphant consulted with the department’s legal team, she withdrew Manyi’s dismissal and replaced it with a term of special leave.
She did this because she was advised that Manyi’s dismissal had been irregular, as it was executed by her predecessor Membathisi Mdladlana rather than by former president Zuma.
“The minister was not supposed to dismiss him; that role is for the president,” Oliphant said.
“The reason I withdrew [Manyi’s dismissal] was because I was correcting the situation. The public interest was that we were going to save money from the department rather than having a situation where the matter is going to be taken to court.”
Oliphant claimed to have no knowledge of the disciplinary charges against Manyi, despite the fact that they were widely aired in the media at the time.
“I’m concerned,” said Judge Zondo.
“You came into the department as a new minister, the DG has been dismissed, but you don’t want to fully inform yourself of the reasons why he was dismissed? It’s somebody who wants to still come back to your department.”
Oliphant replied that if Manyi were about to be reinstated, she would “of course” have delved into the issues. As things stood, however, she believed there was no need to “get the full details”.
Oliphant added: “Probably that was my mistake”.
“Yes, I think it was,” replied Judge Zondo.
When the judge announced that Oliphant’s unilluminating testimony could end, and the former minister had delivered her biblical parting shot — or blessing — she was replaced by her former Cabinet counterpart Baloyi.
Baloyi was quizzed by evidence leader Kate Hofmeyr on the circumstances surrounding Maseko’s exit from GCIS — with the commission having previously heard from more than one witness that the deceased former performance, monitoring and evaluation minister Collins Chabane had privately bemoaned the fact that he was being leant on by Zuma to get rid of Maseko.
In Baloyi’s version, Chabane approached him to say:
“There is a decision that Mr Maseko has to leave: can you assist us with exit management?”
Who took that decision and why fell beyond his mandate, said Baloyi; his only role was to facilitate a “comfortable exit” for Maseko, who ended up being transferred to the role of DG in Baloyi’s own public service and administration department.
Baloyi also claimed that he spoke to Maseko ahead of his transfer and obtained his consent for the move. This is in direct contrast to Maseko’s testimony: that he was not consulted by Baloyi before the public announcement of the move.
“I’m quite clear that I had that discussion,” Baloyi said.
“Any confusion is on [Maseko’s] part.”
Baloyi said further that full protocol was followed with Maseko’s transfer, with a “transfer memo” presented to Cabinet for discussion.
Evidence leader Hofmeyr informed Baloyi that the full Cabinet minutes had been obtained from the relevant meeting, and they showed that no Cabinet memo to that effect was produced and no discussion held on the transfer.
Yet Baloyi went on to sign the relevant presidential announcement, alongside Zuma, of Maseko’s transfer — something which is irregular if the necessary preceding steps have not been followed.
Baloyi said that if he had indeed signed off on the transfer without due process being followed, “I would be disappointed with myself”.
He added: “I will be shocked by my own actions.”
The former minister continued to insist, however, that paperwork might still be located which proved that the necessary Cabinet consultation had taken place. Hofmeyr noted that the commission had already subpoenaed “any and all” records of the transfer, but Baloyi was undeterred. Documents might still be unearthed from within his old department, he said.
“Do you accept that State Capture can occur in a society by removing people who aren’t willing to do the work of the captors?” asked Hofmeyr.
“Well, I can’t second guess the decision of executive authorities,” Baloyi protested.
“Do you accept that irregular removals of persons and irregular transfers of persons may be a way in which [State Capture] is facilitated?” Hofmeyr pressed.
“But firstly we need to prove there have been irregular transfers,” Baloyi objected.
“In the course of today we have established that the transfers of Mr Maseko and Mr Manyi were irregular,” Hofmeyr stated baldly, and invited the former minister’s comment on that.
“I have requested that we look at certain documents that may lead us to come to an informed decision on the balance of probabilities,” Baloyi replied. DM