Jacob Zuma before the commission of inquiry into state capture in Johannesburg, July 16 2019. Picture: POOL/REUTERS
Jacob Zuma before the commission of inquiry into state capture in Johannesburg, July 16 2019. Picture: POOL/REUTERS

Former president Jacob Zuma has denied he was responsible for the transfer of former government communications head Themba Maseko, who said he was axed for defying attempts to be bullied by one of the Gupta brothers. 

Zuma says Maseko’s claims that he instructed minister in the presidency Collins Chabane to transfer or dismiss him in January 2011 are “fishy”. Chabane died in a car accident in 2015. 

While evidence leader Paul Pretorius was questioning Zuma, his  advocate Thabani Masuku objected, saying his questions amounted to “cross examination”, and went beyond the bounds of seeking clarity from him.

Masuku argued that it was “not fair to call a former president to answer questions about how an official was removed”, without explicitly saying that this removal was driven by corruption. “Mr Maseko’s allegations are being tested against Mr Zuma,” he argued, adding that this amounted to a “credibility issue”.

Pretorius said the inquiry was not pursuing a civil or criminal case, and he was asking Zuma to address the factual evidence that had been led, and to not do so would be “grossly unfair”.

Masuku was not convinced, and repeated Zuma’s complaint that he has effectively been treated as a “criminal accused” at the inquiry, adding that the inquiry had never sought to get Zuma’s evidence “as they have with other witnesses”.

Maseko had previously testified before the inquiry that Chabane told him that Zuma called him from overseas about his position at the GCIS department. This call resulted in him being moved to the department of public service and administration.

Zuma responded on Tuesday that he “never instructed the minister to do so”.

After admitting that he would “definitely” have been consulted about the transfer of someone in Maseko’s former position, Zuma maintained that it was Chabane who wanted Maseko moved. “I think there was an issue between them,” he said.

Guptas demands

During his testimony before the inquiry’s chair, deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo, last year, Maseko detailed how he was fired shortly after refusing to abide by Zuma’s instruction to “help” the Guptas, claiming he was fired a month after he refused to meet with them. He said the Guptas demanded R600m from the GCIS budget for media spending to be used on their now defunct newspaper, The New Age, which went to print for the first time in December 2010.

Maseko claimed Ajay Gupta told him that Zuma would “sort out” any minister who refused to hand over their advertising budget to him. Asked on Tuesday if there there was any basis on which Ajay Gupta could say that, Zuma responded: “No, I don’t know.”

Ajay Gupta has denied the claims.

On Monday, Zuma said he could not recall making a call to Maseko to give him instructions to “help” the Gupta family. “I don’t remember. I normally call [director-generals] to discuss a number of issues. I can’t remember making this call,” Zuma told the inquiry. Zuma said that although he could not remember making the call, he does not dispute that he might have made it.

On Tuesday, he told the inquiry that he had discussed the Gupta family’s media projects with them, but did so in his “personal capacity”. He admitted to being the driving force behind the family’s decision to establish both The New Age newspaper and the ANN7 television station.

Zuma, however, said he “didn’t know” whether the outlets enjoyed government support.