Witness testimony at the ongoing state capture commission of inquiry has depicted the Gupta family as having infiltrated and influenced key public servants – from the highest office in the land down to the National Prosecuting Authority, the Hawks and state-owned entities.
Government Communication and Information System acting chief executive Phumla Williams’ testimony on Monday revealed how a few good men and women stood their ground against the Guptas and their lieutenants, at great risk and personal cost.
During a sombre moment in which she likened her experiences under then communications minister Faith Muthambi to “apartheid torture”, Williams described how Muthambi systematically took away her key responsibilities‚ which included her management of GCIS’s procurement decisions.
Williams’ voice trembled as she described Muthambi’s actions towards her: “Minister Muthambi‚ or rather this woman, tortured me. She ripped my scars of torture‚ completely … I started having panic attacks, and memories of torture [that I endured under the apartheid government] returned… my sister had to move into my house because I had anxiety and could not sleep.”
According to Williams, Muthambi – who allegedly leaked confidential Cabinet memos to the Gupta family – “wanted to steal at all costs” and resorted to taking away key responsibilities from Williams’ role as director-general at the GCIS as she “knew” that Williams would not be a willing participant.
Williams’ emotional testimony detailed her abusive treatment at the hands of Muthambi during her tenure as minister. It culminated in her eventual demotion in 2016 from acting director-general back to deputy director-general and, in the process, being forced to pay back R35,000 of her salary.
Williams, who was an Umkhonto weSizwe operative during the apartheid era and was tortured for weeks, revealed to the commission how the memories of torture haunted her.
“The effects of my torture were back. I was no longer sleeping, I had nightmares and my facial twitches returned,” said Williams.
She said she never thought that in the democratic era under which South Africans now lived she would experience such violation for fighting against corruptions “from within”.
Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo adjourned the commission for a few minutes for Williams to compose herself.
Muthambi was appointed communications minister by former president Jacob Zuma and the GCIS, which previous fell under the minister in the presidency, was placed under her portfolio.
During Monday’s proceedings, Advocate Mike Hellens – representing Ajay Gupta – indicated that he had filed an application to cross-examine former ANC MP Vytie Mentor and GCIS chief executive Themba Maseko.
Lawyers for implicated businessman Fana Hlongwane, Lakela Kaunda (who was former president Zuma’s advisor) and Hawks bosses Mandla Mtolo and Zintle Mnonopi also announced their wish to cross-examine some of the witnesses.