“If there is an order that I have made, it needs to be respected,” said Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo before the State Capture Commission of inquiry adjourned for lunch on Thursday.
“I’ve got to reflect on what you’ve just done.”
Former SAA chairperson Dudu Myeni had just revealed the identity of “Mr X”, a witness implicating her in allegedly dodgy deals from Mhlathuze Water Board and a housing contract from the Mpumalanga government.
Zondo ordered that the witness, who testified in-camera, be referred to as Mr X to protect his safety. He explained the order to Myeni before she mentioned Mr X’s name multiple times on Thursday.
Myeni was testifying via video link for her second day at the commission. She is in self-isolation after being exposed to Covid-19. She continued to refuse to answer questions, claiming the right not to incriminate herself.
Evidence leader advocate Kate Hofmeyr presented Myeni with testimony related to a letter six SAA board members sent to then public enterprises minister Malusi Gigaba in 2014.
They complained that Myeni had grossly misrepresented herself to the minister regarding a deal to purchase new aircraft, had cancelled board meetings and had a leadership style that exposed the entire board to allegations of breaching their fiduciary duties.
A department of public enterprises report on SAA’s divided leadership, submitted to Gigaba’s successor Lynne Brown, found the board was dysfunctional. The complaining board members were replaced and only Myeni and Yakhe Kwinana were retained.
Hofmeyr asked Myeni which board members had been retained in the 2014 shake-up.
“May I not respond, chairperson, in case I incriminate myself,” Myeni repeated.
Zondo allowed her to continue refusing to provide answers until Hofmeyr objected.
Earlier in the day, Myeni complained she had been tainted as corrupt due to her association with former president Jacob Zuma – she chairs his Jacob G Zuma Foundation – and for prioritising transformation at the airline.
She said, in retrospect, she would not have agreed to chair Zuma’s foundation, from which she’s accused of siphoning money.
In May, the North Gauteng High Court declared Myeni a delinquent director for life. It also recommended the NPA investigate her time at SAA. Myeni and her lawyers have claimed she might soon face criminal charges and should be allowed to stay silent on SAA issues.
“I came before this commission knowing clearly that I am a culprit… I am a criminal. I came before this commission also because I did not want to be in contempt,” said Myeni.
She claimed the commission’s evidence leaders and investigators – not Zondo, who she respects, she emphasised – and the media had created a narrative that certain leaders were corrupt.
“I feel, chairperson, that there is a certain factional group that is being hunted. There are certain people that you, chair, might not be aware of that are denied to come and present some evidence of corruption, but because it does not suit the narrative of today they have not been allowed to come,” she said.
Zondo repeated his call for South Africans to submit evidence of corruption.
Myeni also claimed she’s being vilified because she’s a black woman.
“Chair, if I had a choice I would wake up the next day being a Mrs White or Mrs Smit or Mrs Van der Merwe because that name would give me credibility in my own country,” she said.
Hofmeyr challenged her reasons for claiming the right not to incriminate herself and said the privilege is open to abuse.
“I have experience of not being trusted for anything I say, chairperson. No matter how loud or how I jump it will never sink [in] because you know chairperson, we are born to be [seen as] criminals.”
Witnesses at commissions of inquiry are required to answer questions put to them and can only claim the right not to self-incriminate when there is a real possibility that it will expose them to a criminal charge.
Testimonies at the commission cannot be used in a criminal case against an accused.
When Myeni continued to refuse to answer basic questions, Zondo instructed her to respond, but she reverted to refusing to answer.
“Ms Myeni’s latest explanation for not answering these questions is, I submit, nothing short of imaginary and unsubstantial because they are not reasons that exist in law for a basis of refusing,” said Hofmeyr.
Listing Myeni’s reasons for refusing to respond, Hofmeyr said, “Not one of those reasons is a legally valid reason for refusing to answer a question put to her by this commission, by its evidence leaders and by you, chair.”
Hofmeyr recommended Myeni be charged for revealing Mr X’s identity.
Myeni is scheduled to continue testifying until Friday. DM
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