Former sports minister Fikile Mbalula. Picture: GCIS/ ELMOND JIYANE
Former sports minister Fikile Mbalula. Picture: GCIS/ ELMOND JIYANE

Former finance minister Trevor Manuel is expected to implicate Atul Gupta at the state capture inquiry with testimony that suggests the middle Gupta brother played a role in the appointment of Fikile Mbalula as sports minister.

But on Thursday, Mbalula told Business Day that it was not Atul Gupta who appeared to have foreknowledge of his 2010 appointment, but rather his brother Ajay.

“It was not Atul who congratulated me about getting the position of sports minister. It was Ajay. The commission has asked me about this, but I haven’t given it a statement. I’m not running away from this inquiry. I’ve answered all their questions to the best of my ability and I’m willing to testify,” Mbalula said.

The Guptas, who have close relations with former president Jacob Zuma and his son Duduzane, have come under scrutiny at the Zondo commission, where several  witnesses have testified about their attempts at political influence for their commercial benefit.

The Guptas’ lawyers, meanwhile, have reiterated that Atul “has never met Mr Fikile Mbalula” — and say that Ajay had congratulated Mbalula as a result of “positive and public media speculation” that he would be appointed as sports minister.

Manuel, who is expected to testify at the Zondo commission on November 27, detailed in an open letter published by Daily Maverick in June 2017 how Mbalula had made a tearful confession to the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC) at a meeting in 2011 about his interaction with Atul Gupta.

The influence of the Gupta family on government affairs were discussed at the meeting, where Mbalula recounted being summoned to the Gupta compound in Saxonwold. According to Manuel, Mbalula told the NEC members that Atul Gupta told him  ahead of time that he would be appointed minister of sport and recreation. At the time, Mbalula was the deputy minister of police.

Mbalula reiterated to Business Day that he would not deny what he had said at the ANC NEC meeting, “which was witnessed by 80 people, including [then] president Jacob Zuma”.

“I was the first one in the ANC to raise concern about the Guptas. Mine was a principled statement that I made to the ANC as a warning.”

Mbalula said he had met with Ajay Gupta over his statement to the meeting, as “Ajay said I misunderstood him”. He said he would detail this meeting fully if and when he was called on to testify.

It is unclear whether the Guptas will apply to cross-examine Manuel, given that they have been refused the right to cross-examine other witnesses unless they agree to return to SA to give evidence.

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