Former Transnet board chairperson Mafika Mkwanazi left Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo gobsmacked at the board’s decision to reinstate executive Siyabonga Gama in 2011.
Mkwanazi made a virtual appearance via video link at the State Capture Inquiry on Friday, 16 October 2020.
His testimony marked the third consecutive day of resumed evidence on allegations of state capture, corruption and fraud at Transnet.
Evidence leader, advocate Anton Myburgh SC honed in on Transnet’s controversial and irrational decision to reinstate Gama.
Gama returned to Transnet with a clean record, despite being found guilty during an internal disciplinary inquiry and summarily dismissed in 2011.
On Wednesday, 14 October 2020 Transnet’s former head of group legal, advocate Siyabulela Mapoma, said Mkwanazi named the source of the instruction to reinstate Gama.
“Although I did not consider it my place to ask who had instructed him, I assumed that it must have been former president Zuma,” said Mapoma.
“He indicated initially that this was coming from the ministry and later on he indicated that this was coming from higher up and this is the word that he used: ‘higher up’. But the president was not mentioned.”
Mkwanazi entirely undermined Mapoma’s claim and its presumed allusion to Zuma.
“It’s his assumption,” he said. “I don’t name drop, particularly [former] President Zuma. I don’t name drop that person because I’ve never met him, etc.”
Myburgh asked, “How would Mr Mapoma have gotten this so wrong?”
Mkwanazi’s reply offered scant insight.
“He really got it completely wrong. I was close to Mr Mapoma, by the way. Let me admit that,” he said.
Zondo then asked, “Is there a cabinet member who influenced the settlement?”
Mkwanazi claimed he had no personal knowledge of any cabinet member influencing the princely settlement Transnet granted Gama, which included R10-million in back pay.
Myburgh cited correspondence from the inquiry’s team asking Mkwanazi if any cabinet member played a role, whether direct or indirect, in the finalisation of Gama’s matter.
At this, Mkwanazi made a tepid mention of former public enterprises minister Malusi Gigaba, who reportedly played a limited role. Gigaba tasked Mkwanazi with reviewing Gama’s suspension and dismissal, remarking that “white executives at Transnet” had gotten off lightly for similar misdemeanours.
“Can you review the matter?” Mkwanazi reported Gigaba had told him.
The day’s sitting was stilted, sometimes due to poor video link connection and other times due to the incoherence of the evidence.
Mkwanazi’s input on key matters proved bewildering to chair and evidence leader, alike.
Zondo highlighted his “serious difficulty” in understanding how Transnet’s board not only reinstated Gama, but paved the way for his ascent to Group CEO.
An internal disciplinary process found Gama guilty on all charges brought against him. Gama’s three main charges concerned: a locomotive refurbishment contract; a security services contract; and his attack on colleagues.
Gama signed off a contract for the refurbishment of 50 locomotives with terms entirely opposite to requirements formally stipulated by Transnet’s board.
The board insisted that improved locomotives should be reassembled by a division of Transnet. However, the contract Gama authorised handed this work to an outside company (in which Transnet’s project manager held an interest).
Transnet abandoned an open tender process for security services. Soon afterward, it received an unsolicited bid from General Nyanda Security Advisory Services (GNS).
Gama signed off the contract awarded to GNS, in which then Minister of communications Siphiwe Nyanda held a 50% stake. During disciplinary proceedings at Transnet, Gama concealed his proximity to Nyanda.
However, phone records showed Gama and Nyanda regularly spoke leading up to the finalisation of the security services contract.
Faced with this contradiction, Gama tried to explain away his lie: he and Nyanda were golf buddies, and that Gama did not want too much to be made of the association.
During the disciplinary inquiry, Gama made an alarming admission: he did not read all relevant paperwork relating to the security services contract with GNS, before he signed off.
This was an especially grave admission. When he signed the contract, Gama held the senior position of Chief Executive of TFR. He would – as Hogan claimed Zuma wanted – rise to the rank of Group CEO.
Labour law expert and law firm partner Christopher Todd was a top adviser to Transnet in relation to the Gama saga. He testified on Thursday, 15 October 2020.
On Thursday he testified: “This was always apparent, even on Mr Gama’s own version: ‘I’m the chief executive of TFR, signing a security contract for R18-million and you can just put anything in front of me, you can say anything and put anything in front of me’…”
“And you sign,” added Zondo.
Time and again, during sittings from Wednesday to Friday, Zondo and Myburgh were perplexed as to the logic justifying the board’s decision to reinstate Gama while there were grave marks against him.
“I have serious difficulty with the whole idea of the board reinstating somebody who had occupied such a senior position in the organisation, and who had been found guilty of such serious acts of misconduct and was not challenging those findings,” said Zondo.
His voice rose and he continued: “I am looking at this committee and I am saying not only is this committee thinking of reinstating Mr Gama, actually it’s thinking of, it seeks to give him a platform to go and occupy an even higher position despite the failures in his conduct! How is that possible?”
Mkwanazi’s input raised necessary questions about the board’s reasoning and his own conduct as chairperson in relation to Gama’s bounce back.
He will continue his testimony at 9am on Monday, 19 October 2020. DM