Picture: 123RF/Burhan Bunardi
Picture: 123RF/Burhan Bunardi

It is quite clear from testimony at the state capture inquiry over the past week that the ANC can no longer claim it wasn’t aware, as far back as 2010, that the controversial Gupta family was pulling the strings of then president Jacob Zuma.

The skeletons have been tumbling out of the closet as witness after witness has told the commission of being contacted by the Guptas in one way or another, and then reporting this to leaders of the ruling party.

The ANC has always maintained it was not aware that the Guptas were influencing cabinet appointments and the running of the state.

After revelations in 2016 by former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas that the Gupta family had offered him a bribe and the job of finance minister, the ANC national executive committee called on party members to approach the secretary-general’s office if they had any information on such matters.

This came to nought; Gwede Mantashe, secretary-general at the time, said only one person came forward to make a submission.

However, if the testimony of former ANC MP Vytjie Mentor last week is anything to go by, ANC leaders such as Mantashe can no longer feign ignorance. Mentor testified that Ajay Gupta had offered her the job of public enterprises minister at a meeting in 2010, on condition that she terminate SAA’s Johannesburg-Mumbai route. She alleged that Zuma was in another room in the Gupta family’s Saxonwold home when the offer was made.

She told the commission that she had informed parliament’s joint standing committee on intelligence, then chaired by Siyabonga Cwele, and the ANC secretariat about the incident in 2010.

However, Mantashe told eNCA that he had met Mentor at the time to discuss a trip she took to China, where she first met the Guptas, but that she made no mention of Ajay Gupta’s alleged offer.

Mentor said it was clear to her, on the China trip — part of a state visit by Zuma — that the Guptas were running the show.

Ajay Gupta, now a fugitive from SA law, has been at the centre of recent testimony at the commission. A warrant has been issued for his arrest in connection with the alleged attempt to bribe Jonas. (Zuma’s son Duduzane Zuma, who earlier handed himself over to the police in connection with the same matter, is expected back in the specialised commercial crimes court in January.)

The Gupta brother also featured in the testimony of former government spokesperson Themba Maseko. He told the commission Ajay Gupta had asked him to divert the R600m media budget of the Government Communication & Information System (GCIS) to Gupta-owned media.

Maseko also alleged that he’d received a phone call from Zuma telling him to "help" the family. After he refused, he was fired by Zuma, who replaced him with Gupta ally Mzwanele Manyi.

Though Ajay Gupta refuses to hand himself over to the police and appear in court to give his version of events, he is applying to have his legal team cross-examine the witnesses who have implicated him. His brother Rajesh Gupta and Duduzane Zuma are doing the same.

Their applications are set to be decided this week by the commission’s head, deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo.

The most moving testimony of the week came from Phumla Williams, acting director-general of the GCIS. Close to tears, she recounted her experience of then communications minister Faith Muthambi stripping her of her powers and neutralising the GCIS.

She told the commission that Muthambi had mistreated her to such an extent that she had relived the torture she endured as an activist under apartheid. As she spoke, she stopped referring to Muthambi as "minister", instead calling her "that woman".

Williams said she began to see Muthambi as the enemy, called her a thief who "wanted to steal at all costs" and who did not care about serving the people or preserving resources.

In a statement after Williams’s testimony, Muthambi attacked her personally, calling her a "shameful manipulator and liar". The ANC MP said she is seeking legal advice on Williams’s evidence and accused her of compromising the commission.

"A very different truth will emerge and her lies and reactionary agenda will be finally exposed for all to see," she said.

Muthambi could apply to cross-examine Williams and give her side of the story directly to Zondo. But perhaps, like Ajay Gupta, she’d prefer not to appear in person.

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