Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane. Picture: VELI NHLAPO/SOWETAN
Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane. Picture: VELI NHLAPO/SOWETAN

“I don’t always remember the first time I meet people, unless they are very special and I meet them under the tree and those memories come back to me.”This was the rhapsodic preamble to Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane’s account to Parliament’s portfolio committee on mineral resources on Wednesday morning, when he was quizzed about his relationship with the Gupta family and state capture.

At the start of the hearing, Zwane struck a defiant pose, accusing MPs of attempting to assassinate his character.

He said it was improper for MPs to call him to discuss the allegations, as the matter was being investigated by law enforcement agencies, and the former public protector’s report on the issue was the subject of a pending court decision.

He suggested MPs should instead focus on the “real issues” his department was dealing with in relation to service delivery.

“Am I being investigated?” he asked.

Zwane is viewed as a central figure in the state capture project through which decisions by government and parastatals were manipulated to benefit the business interests of a business clique with connections to President Jacob Zuma’s son. The minister faced tough questions on matters including his overseas travels, the businesspeople he knows personally, the Vrede dairy farm project which he initiated as Free State agriculture MEC, and the circumstances under which his CV was sent to the Gupta family before his appointment as minister. Zwane largely sidestepped some of the less comfortable questions that committee members asked him. He stated before the meeting began that he could not answer questions on details outlined in his responding court papers. This was in reference to the review of the public protector's report on state capture. When asked about his personal relationship with the Guptas and whether he met with them regularly, Zwane said he met with various captains of industry on a regular basis, but that this did not mean he was close, nor beholden, to them. “I have met Cutifani, but I can’t tell you about the first time we met,” he siad, referring to Anglo American CEO Mark Cutifani.

“I meet many people and in Dubai I met interesting businesspeople including South African business people in the diamond industry. They will come because they want to beneficiate,” said Zwane.

Committee member for the ANC Mandla Mandela asked what role Zwane played in the sale of Optimum Coal by Glencore to Tegeta and the intended purpose of the transaction. He also asked Zwane whether he was aware of allegations that the Gupta family had influenced President Jacob Zuma’s Cabinet appointments and whether he believed that his appointment was made with this in mind. “There is this perception in the media, that people are alluding to the minister as a Gupta minister. Were you aware at any stage that the Guptas are said to have offered senior Cabinet positions,” said Mandela. Zwane defended his involvement in the matters of Optimum Coal’s sale, saying he had intervened on the matter and mediated a process between Glencore and Tegeta in the interests of saving jobs. “One of the problems I met with when I arrived here was that about 85,000 workers in the mine would possibly lose their jobs. That 85,000 had 3,000 who were urgent because the company was put under curators. I asked the meaning and was told the company was not capable (and) could not operate and the operators were Glencore,” he said. EFF MP Nazir Paulsen asked Zwane about his travels, amid reports that the Gutpas funded Zwane’s travels to India with his choir when he was still MEC in the Free State. Zwane did not deny the trip but said it was not his choir. However, he alluded to his gospel music career when he explained the trip. “I did go to India, Switzerland and Dubai. The details of my trips, as members would want to get, are on my answering papers and therefore subject to the courts. I request that we deal with them at that particular stage,” Zwane responded. Asked about the Vrede dairy farm, Zwane said this was his initiative when he was agriculture MEC in the Free State. He said the provincial legislature had approved the project and that he never initiated it in order to benefit personally.

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