DAYS OF ZONDO
Zuma confidante Dudu Myeni acted with ‘corrupt intent’ at SAA, State Capture Inquiry finds
Acting Chief Justice Raymond Zondo devoted more than half of his first State Capture Inquiry report to issues at SAA, where he found that former chairperson Dudu Myeni was incompetent and acted with corrupt intent.
The eagerly anticipated final report into State Capture – the first part of which was released on Tuesday night – has painted former SAA chairperson Dudu Myeni, a personal friend of former president Jacob Zuma, as meddling, paranoid, incompetent, prone to intimidating board members and staff, and as having acted with “corrupt intent” throughout her time at the national carrier.
State Capture thrived at SAA and its associated companies because those companies were managed to suit the interests of a “select few”, according to the 874-page report, the first 447 pages of which deal with SAA and its affiliates.
“The evidence reveals that Ms Myeni was appointed Chairperson of the Board of SAA in circumstances where she was an underperforming Board member. She proceeded, through a mixture of negligence, incompetence and deliberate corrupt intent, to dismantle governance procedures at SAA, create a climate of fear and intimidation and make a series of operational choices at SAA that saw it decline into a shambolic state,” read Part One, Volume One of the report from the almost R1-billion inquiry, chaired by now acting Chief Justice Raymond Zondo.
Myeni had operated SAA “under a cloud of fear, intimidation, secrecy and paranoia, when a public entity should be operated transparently and with accountability to the South African people who fund its operations”, Zondo said.
He dissected the benefits Myeni unlawfully received from State Security Agency resources, including protection from undercover operatives “trained overseas in counterintelligence strategies and intelligence gathering”.
“This reveals how powerful Ms Myeni was and how close she was to President Zuma. The extent of Ms Myeni’s proximity to former President Zuma is also reflected in her dealings with Bosasa and in relation to Eskom.”
Also not spared in the report is Yakhe Kwinana, one-time chairperson of South African Airways Technical (SOC) Ltd (Saat). It was during the tenure of both women, according to Zondo, that there was a “steady decline in the quality and effectiveness of the governance of SAA from 2012 onwards.
“During both their tenures, acts of corruption and fraud took place at SAA and Saat. Committed managers, who tried to stand up to the increasingly unreasonable and unlawful demands of these Board members, were slowly but surely removed from their positions.
“The auditors appointed to SAA for the 2012 to 2016 financial years failed dismally to detect any of this fraud and corruption. The internal audit function within SAA was also hopelessly ineffective in identifying or limiting these criminal acts.”
Myeni – who retained her position for just under five years – and board members closely aligned to her, had caused “sustainable damage” to the national carrier, according to the report.
“They created a climate so intolerable for many personnel that they left the airline or were forced out only to be replaced by more pliant employees.”
Promulgated as the Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture, Corruption and Fraud in the Public Sector Including Organs of State, the commission was gazetted on 23 January 2018 by Zuma and mandated to probe allegations of attempts to influence those involved in the looting of state resources – including Zuma and his family – for personal enrichment.
“From the time of her appointment as Chair, many people within SAA and officials in government, attempted to speak out against Ms Myeni and to stop her from wreaking havoc at the SOE. However, all attempts to criticize or remove her were met with resistance at the highest level. Two successive Ministers of Finance were, despite their efforts, unable to remove her from office. In 2016, Minister Gordhan was forced to replace the entire Board of SAA to ‘mitigate the harm’ that its Chair had caused, and would likely continue to cause, to the entity,” said Zondo.
The report details a timeline of Myeni’s tenure at the national carrier from her appointment as acting chair in October 2012.
At that stage, Myeni was already well known in the public arena for her handling – or mishandling – of bulk water provider Mhlathuze Water, and her relationship with Zuma. She was in 2020 implicated at the commission by an in-camera witness, Mr X, for allegedly receiving laundered money during her tenure as the water board chair.
Zondo’s report also makes plain that Myeni had a penchant for evading accountability, and that she tried to do the same during her appearances at the commission.
During those appearances – one of which she initially skipped, claiming there was some sort of miscommunication – she refused to answer questions on the basis of privilege against self-incrimination. She also said she was “not comfortable” answering certain questions, which were placing her in a “bad light”, or that she would rather not answer because of pending civil proceedings.
In November 2020, during her first evidence session, Myeni revealed the identity of Witness X, despite a ruling by Zondo that his name should not be made public because of safety concerns.
This, along with Myeni’s obfuscation and refusals to answer, according to Zondo’s report, “revealed a sustained disdain for the authority and processes of the commission”.
In one of several cases of alleged fraud and corruption involving Myeni that were put before the commission, Mr X had told Zondo that he received R3.15-million into his business account from Myeni’s son Thalente, in three tranches, between the end of 2015 and early 2016, even though he had no dealings with Thalente or Thalente’s business.
Shortly after the money was paid in, Myeni allegedly told Mr X to use it to make certain payments. Some was drawn and given to Myeni in cash, while two other payments went into an account belonging to the Jacob Zuma Foundation. Mr X contended he did not know who the recipient was at the time. Zondo described him as a “candid and frank” witness in the report.
It has since been revealed that the money paid to Thalente was from the coffers of the Free State government. It was allegedly laundered through two of Thalente’s companies before making its way to Myeni and to the Jacob Zuma Foundation.
Zondo says in the report that the flow of these funds needs to be investigated “to establish whether there was a corrupt relationship between any of these parties in terms of which state funds were redirected to benefit private parties, including the Jacob Zuma Foundation”.
In May 2020, Myeni was declared a delinquent director for life by the Pretoria High Court, in terms of the Companies Act. The suit was brought by the civil action group Outa and the SAA Pilots’ Association.
While receiving the hefty report from Zondo at a ceremonial handover on Tuesday evening, President Cyril Ramaphosa said it was, “A defining moment in our country’s moment to [definitively] end the era of State Capture and restore the capability and credibility of our institutions and government.” DM
Daily Maverick © All rights reserved