State capture. This has been the term bandied about during attempts at describing the unwarranted influence over government officials, departments and state-owned entities wielded by the Gupta family and their lieutenants.
The more witnesses who grace the commission of inquiry into possible state capture, the more apparent it becomes to ordinary South Africans why this particular phrase – state capture – has been employed in describing the phenomenon that befell South Africa in the past two decades.
A disturbing picture has started to take shape as witnesses give testimony.
The Gupta family has been depicted as a clan whose influence knew no bounds; while government officials voted into power to do the bidding of the country’s citizens have been portrayed as playing a cameo role to the Gupta protagonists.
This was epitomised in former Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) head and government spokesperson Themba Maseko’s continued testimony on Thursday before the commission of inquiry.
Maseko continued from where he left off on Wednesday, revealing how he faced off with the Guptas and came off second best.
After refusing to be the family’s lackey, Maseko claimed that then president Jacob Zuma – who was in the family’s back pocket – made sure that he lost his job to a more willing Mzwanele Manyi.
According to Maseko, former president Jacob Zuma instructed him to “meet with the Gupta brothers and assist them”.
During this planned meeting in 2010, Maseko claimed that Ajay Gupta knew about the GCIS’s R600-million advertisement budget, which was confidential government information.
“He said listen‚ this is how things are going to work ... you must go to all the departments‚ talk to ministers‚ tell them to transfer all the budgets into ... the GCIS account,” said Maseko.
According to Maseko, the Gupta brother also informed him that Zuma would “sort out” any minister who refused to hand over their advertising budget to him.
This claim is strikingly similar to the claims that were made by former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas as well as former parliamentarian Vytjie Mentor, who testified before Maseko.
During his time on the stand Jonas said Ajay Gupta not only had knowledge of official government information but claimed that “the old man” [Zuma] would do as they [the Gupta family] pleased.
Mentor echoed the same sentiments, claiming that during she met with the Gupta brother and he offered her the position of Public enterprises minister at which point she became “agitated”.
She claimed that Zuma walked in and she immediately informed him of what had transpired but he was more worried about calming her down than addressing the matter at hand.
Mentor also claimed that the Gupta brother spoke to Zuma in a “demeaning manner” yet the then president did not take offence.
The witnesses’ testimony paints a picture of a family with unlimited influence and control over state officials and organs.
Besides the allegations that the top echelon of power [the office of the presidency in particular] was captured, what was more concerning from the testimonies was the image being painted of public officials who were “too scared” to come forward with information relating to the alleged influence of the Guptas.
Maseko claimed that he immediately informed his superior, the late Minister Collins Chabane after Zuma’s instruction and the meeting with the Guptas. Similarly, Jonas revealed that after his meeting with the Guptas and Duduzane Zuma he informed then finance minister Nhlanhla Nene and Pravin Gordhan.
Mentor also indicated that she informed other portfolio committee members of her encounter with the Gupta family.
However, all their efforts to not fall victim to the family’s influence were in vain, because their peers and superiors appeared to be powerless.
Maseko added that he received a call from Chabane who inform him that “the president [Zuma], wanted him removed from GCIS on January 30 2011”.
“With good intentions, Chabane assisted me to get the director-general position in the department of public services positions,” said Maseko, without any indication that Chabane had taken up the matter with any other government official or department.
“The public service has suffered a huge brain drain over the past two decades as very capable directors-general have left government and are in the private sector now. I would estimate that of those who have left, only two percent were removed due to poor performance. The rest were removed for being a hindrance to the Gupta family’s state capture endeavours.
“If the public servants who left had been retained, there would be less instances of poor service delivery in the country,” said Maseko.
Head of legal, Paul Pretorius, informed the commission that GCIS acting director-general Phumla Williams would be taking the stand on Friday to give testimony.