An entrance to the offices of ANN7 Television and The New Age newspaper, in Midrand. Picture: REUTERS/SIPHIWE SIBEKO
An entrance to the offices of ANN7 Television and The New Age newspaper, in Midrand. Picture: REUTERS/SIPHIWE SIBEKO

The Free State government channelled about R79m into Gupta-owned media companies during the time it was headed by Ace Magashule, who was linked over the weekend with an alleged plot to oust President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The province had paid R79.3m — just R20m less than the total for national departments — to The New Age newspaper and Infinity Media, which housed the former ANN7 television station — the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture heard on Monday.

In total, the Gupta media businesses received about R260m from the government, according to testimony by Treasury official Jan Gilliland.

Magashule, who the Sunday Times reported met former president Jacob Zuma and others at a Durban hotel to plot a reversal of the election of Ramaphosa at the ANC’s Nasrec conference, was chairman of the governing party in the Free State from 1992 and premier for the last decade.

He only left the province after he was elected the party’s secretary-general in December 2017, at the same conference that elevated Ramaphosa as leader, beating Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

The second-biggest provincial spender with the Gupta family, which is alleged to have used its connections with Zuma and his family to direct spending by the government and state-owned enterprises towards its business interests, was Zuma’s home province, KwaZulu-Natal, with just more than R25m.

Magashule, has emerged as one of the key figures in the state capture project.

It was also under his watch that the Free State became embroiled in the Estina dairy farm debacle, in which R220m meant for emerging farmers is alleged to have been channelled to the Gupta family and its associates.

Magashule has been a staunch supporter of Zuma.

Gilliland tracked payments made to The New Age and Infinity Media through the basic accounting system used by national and provincial government departments.

He said the system had found 11 bank accounts linked to companies and 1,783 transactions.

The commission of inquiry into state capture continued in Johannesburg on Monday.

Gilliland revealed that Infinity Media received R12m, while The New Age got R248m.

The newspaper received its first payment in 2008, the year before Zuma became the country’s president.

The two biggest contributors were the offices of the premiers combined and the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS).

Evidence leader Vincent Maleka said transactions pulled by the Treasury showed that the amounts spent on the media companies escalated once Themba Maseko, the former head of the GCIS, left.

Maseko has testified that Ajay Gupta tried to convince him to funnel the GCIS’s R600m budget to the family’s media companies, and he was in turn fired by Zuma when he refused.

Maseko was replaced by Mzwanele Manyi, a known Gupta ally who bought the family’s media interests in 2017.

Another key figure linked to the state capture web, Duduzane Zuma, has contacted the commission indicating that he is willing to testify — after initially refusing.

He will testify in relation to evidence given by former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas that he was offered a bribe and the job of finance minister.