Guptas ‘were already in charge’ shortly after Jacob Zuma’s election
Evidence given by the third witness at the state capture inquiry, former ANC MP Vytjie Mentor, indicates that the Guptas were already "running things" in 2010, a year after Jacob Zuma became state president.
Mentor’s evidence showed that even members of the executive, such as trade & industry minister Rob Davies, deferred to one of the Gupta brothers when making a presentation during a state visit to China.
While she gave intricate details about events during her testimony, she also became confused at times over the identity of some people, including Fana Hlongwane and which of the Gupta brothers she was talking about.
In 2016, after disclosures about how the Guptas had offered former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas a cabinet position, Mentor alleged that she too was offered a position by the brothers. She was allegedly offered the role of public enterprises minister late in 2010, just before then-minister Barbara Hogan was removed during a reshuffle. At the time, Mentor was the first witness to link Zuma directly to the Guptas selecting cabinet ministers in his administration.
On Monday, she told the commission, led by deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo, that she was first introduced to two of the Gupta brothers — Atul and Rajesh — by Zuma’s son Duduzane Zuma in August 2010. She alleged that Duduzane approached her while she was on a flight to China and introduced her to Rajesh.
During this introduction, Rajesh told her "with pride" that his brother Atul was part of an advanced team in the presidency, sent ahead to China to deal with logistics.
Mentor was in China as part of the government delegation accompanying Zuma on a state visit. She said while in China, the "Gupta brothers were seemingly in charge of procedures and processes".
"In the meeting room where minister Davies opened proceedings, he handed over to the person I later came to know for sure was a Gupta brother. They were milling all over, they were in charge, so to speak," Mentor told the commission.
Mentor also recounted how Atul and Ajay Gupta had arrived at her hotel in China one evening to take her to meet Zuma. She, however, refused to attend the meeting because of Zuma’s "reputation with women" and said she felt unsafe.
She also spoke about how, two weeks after returning from China, she was called by Zuma’s aid, Lakela Kaunda, on a Sunday to set up a meeting with Zuma.
She alleged that Kaunda said Atul Gupta would contact her with the details.
When Mentor arrived in Johannesburg for the meeting, she said she was met by Atul and Rajesh Gupta and taken to meet the eldest brother Ajay.
It was Ajay who offered her the ministerial job, provided she agreed to "abolish the [SAA] SA-India route.
"He said he could put in a good word with the president, he said ‘we normally do’," Mentor said.
Mentor will continue her testimony on Tuesday.