Gwede Mantashe. Picture: SOWETAN
Gwede Mantashe. Picture: SOWETAN

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.

Gwede Mantashe also failed to explain how the ANC national working committee and its NEC arrived at the conclusion that the banks were colluding

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 various Gupta-linked accounts amounting to R6.8bn, dating back to 2012, leaving the big four banks with little choice but to cut ties with the family in order to continue complying with SA’s banking laws and regulations.

As a result, then Oakbay CE Nazeem Howa wrote to the ANC in a bid to get the party to intervene in the matter, citing “job losses” as his overriding concern and the reason for his approach to the governing party.

The ANC then summoned the big four banks to meetings. The banks testified that they felt pressured by the governing party to reopen the family’s bank accounts. The testimony by the banks was the first to place the ANC in the spotlight for allegedly enabling state capture. 

The ANC delegation included Mantashe, his deputy, Jessie Duarte, and the party’s head of economic transformation, Enoch Godongwana. The delegation was told the banks had 210 pieces of legislation to comply with and their compliance with these laws had culminated in SA’s banking sector being  rated among the top 10 in the world, according to the World Economic Forum. 

Mantashe’s testimony to the Zondo commission went into detail on the explanations and discussions with the banks on how the banking system worked when it came to the closure of accounts in general — the party’s delegation was forced to steer clear of discussing the confidential client information. 

The ANC officials subsequently reported back to the party’s national working committee, which, based on this report-back, came to inexplicable and bizarre conclusions. 

The committee observed that the banks’ behaviour “smacks of collusion”; that their power to close accounts without explanation was a “threat” in that this power could be abused; that the question of job losses in the Oakbay Group had to be “raised sharply”; that there should be a better understanding of the laws that govern the sector, particularly relating to politically exposed persons; and that the ANC should be “sensitive to public perception”. 

What Mantashe failed to explain to the commission is how the party’s powerful national working committee came to these conclusions when a detailed explanation on the decision-making process behind the closure of bank accounts was given by the banks. Instead, the party simply reverted to the notion held by the Gupta family that the banks were colluding to stifle black business and were effectively abusing their power. 

This report was then given to the national executive committee (NEC) of the ANC — its highest decision-making body between conferences — and the “observations” by the committee were adopted.

Mantashe failed to explain to the Zondo commission why the ANC agreed to intervene on behalf of a private party in the first place, particularly one already heavily embroiled in allegations of state capture and corruption and linked to its own president. 

He also failed to explain how the ANC national working committee and its NEC arrived at the conclusion that the banks were colluding, even though the party was given a detailed explanation of how banks arrive at a decision to close accounts. 

If the ANC, which is at the heart of the state capture allegations, is unable to be completely open and honest at the state capture inquiry, chaired by retired judge Raymond Zondo, the entire exercise will prove pointless in the end.