R6 billion a year wasn’t enough for the Guptas. Even though South Africa’s fiscus was haemorrhaging money that was being syphoned by the Gupta family, they desired to increase this looting spree to a possible R8 billion a year. This was among the reasons why the family orchestrated the dismissal of then Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene. The family intended to replace Nene with a “more subservient minister” who would do their bidding.
These were some of the explosive details that emerged from day three of the commission of inquiry into state capture on Friday when the commission’s second witness, former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas, took the stand.
Jonas’ bombshell revelations included a blow-by-blow account of his communication with alleged middleman, controversial businessman Fana Hlongwane, and Duduzane Zuma building up to the October 23 2015 “R600 million and finance minister position offer” from Ajay Gupta.
The former deputy finance minister revealed that his initial contact with Hlongwane – who is also accused of being the middleman in the multibillion-rand arms procurement deal of 1999 – occurred when he received a phone call from Hlongwane when he was at an African caucus for finance ministers in Luanda, Angola, on either August 27 or 28 of 2015.
During this initial phone call, Jonas says, Hlongwane informed him that Zuma had expressed the desire to meet with him.
Jonas revealed that he had a face-to-face meeting with Hlongwane after his return from Angola.
The meeting apparently took place in the company of Jonas’s friend and, during the course of the meeting, “Hlongwane alluded to the fact that the Guptas were important to him”.
Jonas claimed to have not entertained this line of conversation but asked for Zuma’s phone number since Hlongwane had said Zuma wanted to talk to him.
The commission heard from Jonas’s testimony that it was not until October 17 2015 that the then deputy minister reached out to Zuma in a phone call and later a text message saying: “Hi comrade, I tried to call you, Mcebisi Jonas.”
READ: State capture: Here’s why the Zondo Commission is important
Just minutes after sending the text message Jonas said he received a phone call from Zuma in which he suggested that he accompany him to the “South African of the Year Awards” that were to be hosted by ANN7 that day.
Jonas claimed to have informed Zuma that he would not be in a position to attend the awards due to prior commitments and the latter suggested that the pair should still meet up after the awards as there was something of “paramount importance” he wanted to discuss.
Jonas finally met the young Zuma at the Hyatt Hotel in Rosebank on October 23.
During this meeting “Duduzane appeared very nervous and suggested that the place was too crowded and we should move to a more private venue as the discussion would be of a sensitive nature. He also added that he wanted other people to join in the discussion but was not specific as to who they were,” said Jonas.
A short while later Zuma took Jonas to the Gupta compound, where Hlongwane also arrived.
What happened next could only be summarised as something that resembles a chapter from George Orwell’s novel “1984”.
The events that took place at the Gupta residence in Saxonwold mirror Orwell’s novel in that Jonas claims to have been ushered into the Gupta house by Hlongwane and Zuma into the lounge where none of the Gupta family members were in sight.
Sometime later one of the brothers, whom Jonas said he later came to know as Ajay Gupta, walked in. Like the omnipresent government surveillance at the core of Orwell’s novel, the first words that emerge out of the Gupta brother are “we know you and we have been gathering evidence against you and those closest to you” claimed Jonas.
Archive Read: Guptas confronted Jonas over his ‘factional relations’ against Zuma
Apart from attempts to intimidate him with the “supposed evidence they had gathered” Jonas claimed that the Gupta brother also told him that “the old man [former president Zuma], the Hawks, the National Prosecuting Authority and the intelligence agency” were all puppets on a string and he was the puppet master.
“We are currently getting R6 billion from the national fiscus and this could increase to R8 billion should we remove the hindrances within Treasury,” said the Gupta bother according to Jonas’ testimony.
To show how serious the family was in its intentions to clean up Treasury and replace it with staff loyal to them, Jonas alleged that they promised to give him R600 000 cash and R600 million to be deposited into a bank account of his choice.
“Did you bring a bag [to put the R600 000 cash] asked the Ajay. As for the R600 million we can open a bank account for you in Dubai and you may stash it there.”
Cross examining the witness Jonas’ own advocate Wim Trengove, asked him what took him so long before he disclosed the bribe and job offer.
Jonas clarified that he had informed Nene of all the events that had taken place at the Gupta residence a few days after it occurred. He also added that he had reached out to current Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan just a few days after the job offer and alleged bribe had taken place.
“I explained to Gordhan that I intended to resign just after this incident and he advised me against this saying we should instead hold the line in the finance sector,” said Jonas.
Jonas also revealed that it was their resistance to being captured that resulted in both Nene and himself losing their jobs. He added that he only became aware of his dismissal while watching television and through media statements from the presidency. He has still not received any formal information surrounding his dismissal as deputy finance minister.
More explosive revelations were expected to emerge on Monday when former ANC member of Parliament Vytjie Mentor is expected to testify. Her expected two-phased testimony will begin with the alleged irregular appointments of cabinet ministers.
READ: State capture inquiry: ‘Deviations from tender process a worrying norm’