Testimony at the Zondo Commission last week indicated that Malusi Gigaba had received cash in hand from the Guptas. This was while he was a Cabinet minister, during the time when he could make decisions that had a crucial impact on the nation’s future.
Gigaba still has an important position in the ANC and clearly still has political influence. It needs to be asked whether he should retain this position, and how he was able to ever hold ministerial posts (including that of finance minister) while (allegedly) being on the receiving end of the Guptas’ cash.
The testimony at the Zondo Commission last week included a witness saying he saw a bag in Gigaba’s official car, and that inside it was “some stack of bundles of money… with R200 notes”. According to the witness, Gigaba would pay cash at restaurants and “pay cash for his tailored suits”.
A former leader-in-waiting, Gigaba nowadays may be seen as a political joke. A video he took of himself ended up on a pornographic website. A court found that he lied under oath in the Fireblade affair during his time as home affairs minister. And he is no longer in government.
Incredibly, however, but perhaps not surprisingly, he is still a member of the ANC’s highest body between the electoral conferences, the National Executive Committee (NEC), directly participating in making decisions that determine the future of South Africa.
Two weeks ago, it emerged that the Hawks were investigating Gigaba’s wife, Norma, after she allegedly keyed a car that “a friend had lent him”. In the past, the Hawks have not shown much enthusiasm for investigating such matters. The fact that they are investigating this (despite their protestations) suggests that Gigaba still has clout.
Gigaba has given a brief reaction to last week’s testimony, telling the Sunday Times, “I strongly deny any suggestion or insinuation that there was anything unlawful I did.”
It’s a curious denial, as he does not appear to be denying receiving cash from the Guptas. And it’s also important to remember that the witness who testified that Gigaba did receive cash has not yet been cross-examined.
But how are we to judge Gigaba at this stage?
Certainly, the man had power and influence. And confidence.
When he was minister of home affairs he insisted that all children coming into and leaving South Africa would have to have their unabridged birth certificates with them. He insisted on making it harder to enter and leave the country, despite the protestations of the tourism industry. Despite warnings of the economic damage that would be caused, he went ahead anyway.
The industry, before Covid-19, was still trying to recover. And much of what he did has now been undone, as the Cabinet eventually said many of the restrictions were unnecessary.
But the height of Gigaba’s power and influence was surely during his time as finance minister. And it now appears that he started his time in that position with a lie.
(Very soon the people of South Africa will exhaust their last breath of shock/disbelief at how often, and how boldly, our political representatives lie – Ed.)
Gigaba’s appointment was first announced at around midnight on Thursday 31 March 2017. (He said later that he had been at a fashion show when the announcement came through.)
That Saturday he had his first press conference as finance minister. This reporter asked him:
“Minister, in a strange way, the entire story over the last few days around this reshuffle is about the integrity of the person who has been appointed to the position of finance minister to replace Pravin Gordhan. You may feel that is unfair, but I think this is really about trust. I have to ask you, apart from the income you receive from your roles in government and in Parliament, do you have any other sources of income, if anyone gives you money or cash or anything in kind?”
His answer was emphatic:
“I have no business interests, I am not involved in any business. I do not earn an income from anybody, the only income you will find in my bank account is the income I earn out of working in government.”
As I recorded in the piece published by Daily Maverick on the day: “He went on to explain that he does receive an income from a house he rents out in the Centurion/Midrand area.”
There is another element of his private life that unfortunately is relevant here. His previous lover, Buhle Mkhize, claimed that he had sent a private jet to Durban.
It was for this reason that several people, including this reporter, asked questions about his income in the first place. One of those comments, again in Daily Maverick, resulted in a small but possibly revealing incident.
For most of the period that Gigaba was a minister, Mayihlome Tshwete was by his side as his spokesperson.
There is no suggestion at all that Tshwete went to the Guptas’ home with Gigaba, or carried bags of cash. But he certainly defended Gigaba vigorously in public, and in private.
In 2017, while Gigaba was the minister of finance, he spent several days, along with this reporter, at the World Economic Forum Africa meeting in Durban. It was an important and possibly difficult test for Gigaba.
In a piece I wrote in Daily Maverick during that week, I included the line about Gigaba:
“And again, this is a man whose lifestyle just doesn’t live down to someone earning a government salary.”
The next day, I received a phone call from Tshwete. I remember clearly being in my hotel room in Durban when he told me to stop making these accusations or insinuations about Gigaba having another source of income, because “you can’t prove them”. He was very angry.
To be clear, this was a government official attempting to give a journalist an instruction.
Now, of course, we know that what Tshwete said in that conversation appears to be untrue.
In preparation for the publishing of this article, Tshwete was sent the above few paragraphs. He phoned to respond (through a WhatsApp call). As to the call in which he told me to stop making insinuations about Gigaba’s income, he said that, “I don’t recall that, I don’t recall anything of that sort… I would hope that you can adduce proof, there is no evidence of that call.”
Later, he sent through a more formal WhatsApp response. It is published in full below (the ellipses are his):
“For the record so that I’m not misrepresented… Malusi has never asked me to meet or do anything unduly with anyone especially the Guptas… he knew how I felt about them and never instructed or even hinted I do something unduly with them… I had bad relationships with some people at ANN7, throughout them badmouthing me and calling me arrogant he never once pressured me to change my stance. I can’t speak to any accusations about him but I can say emphatically he never exposed to me such… I had a good working relationship with him and everything that was asked by the media I raised with him as frankly as a journalist asked it.. I’m of the view that we should allow due process that commission is correctly administering and only judge on its findings. As for me, I am still grateful to him and others who allowed me to serve the public… which I did without incident”
Tshwete, like Gigaba, clearly is not backing down, he is not accepting any of the testimony given so far. And there is not even a trace of contrition for what has happened in the past.
The problem is that Gibaba, as we now know, has lied previously. Why then, should his word be accepted now?
And in many ways, this gets to the heart of our current political problems. There are many people implicated in the State Capture project who are still in important political positions. In Gigaba’s case, this comes with the alleged ability to spur the Hawks into action.
What is in plain sight is a complete lack of contrition, or even an acceptance of wrongdoing. How does someone who has been found by a judge to have lied, appeared in a self-shot pornographic video, and been accused of taking cash from the Guptas, believe that, “I still have a future in the ANC and a long one”?
It raises questions about whether that person is sociopathic or delusional. Or both.
But it certainly appears to show that Gigaba, like many others, does not feel shame. And that crucial 21st-century character trait may ensure he remains on the NEC for many years to come. DM