It is very rare to see a weak and timid Gwede Mantashe. The cantankerous former secretary-general of the ANC is generally combative, forceful and mostly brutally honest. It was strange then that his explanation last week to the Zondo commission on state capture about the party’s meetings with some of the country’s major banks about the closure of Gupta family-linked accounts left more questions than answers. It was Mantashe who had first publicly voiced his unease at the growing influence of the Gupta family — he released a scathing statement back in 2013 when the family landed an aircraft ferrying their wedding guests at the Waterkloof airforce base in Pretoria.

At the time, in his capacity as ANC secretary-general, he criticised the move, but was swiftly slapped down as it was the period in which former president Jacob Zuma had all but solidified his grip on power in the governing party. In 2016, the Financial Intelligence Centre identified 72 “suspicious transactions” in va...

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