Zuma ministers, all we want is the Gupta truth
If Gordhan can do it, so can you. If you do, we'll judge you more kindly, no matter what you got up to
“I can recall one meeting where the former president introduced me to Mr Ajay Gupta,” public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan says in his statement to the Zondo Commission.
He says early into his first term as minister of finance, he was called to Mahlamba Ndlopfu, the official presidential residence in Pretoria, for a meeting with then president Jacob Zuma.
“When I was called into the meeting room, former President Zuma introduced me to a man who I believe is Ajay Gupta. Mr Zuma introduced him as ‘my friend’ and told me that the man had expertise in regard to small business and finance,” Gordhan says.
“I recall us exchanging generalities for a couple of minutes, but I do not recall the details of what was a very cursory exchange. Mr Gupta then excused himself and left me and the former president to continue our meeting.”
In the statement to the commission investigating state capture, Gordhan also says: “I have never been to the Gupta family compound located in Saxonwold.”
It is really as simple as that.
It should not be that difficult for members of the cabinet and ANC leaders to explain their contact with the Guptas – unless, of course, they have something to hide.
Gordhan does not, which is why he is able to declare to Judge Raymond Zondo when and where he encountered the Guptas, including being in the same stadium suite with one of the brothers at a Test cricket match sometime between 2009 and 2014.
The Guptas were en vogue for most of Zuma’s time in office – calling the shots on state visits, hosting political high-fliers at The New Age business breakfasts and occupying prime seating at ANC events, including the 53rd national conference at Mangaung.
Let’s not forget the lineup of luminaries who attended and won accolades at the Guptas’ glittering South African of the Year awards, including sports stars, artists and business leaders. Among the recipients of the top award, which came with a R250,000 cash prize, were former public protector Thuli Madonsela and former presidential hopeful and now minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. So among the who’s who in South African society, there were many people who joined the Gupta jamboree.
In the ANC and government, there were probably not many people who snubbed the Guptas as Gordhan did. He went to the extent of cancelling The New Age post-budget breakfast briefing in 2016 and instead spoke at a briefing broadcast by the SABC and eNCA.
Gordhan says in his statement to the state capture inquiry that he believes this decision “may have contributed to my eventual removal as minister of finance in March 2017”.
Former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene has been the only witness at the Zondo Commission who testified that he willingly met with the Guptas at their Saxonwold home several times. He paid a high price for doing so.
It is no surprise therefore that there is reluctance from former and current ministers to own up to their relationships with the Guptas, let alone their role in aiding state capture.
Saints and sinners in the state capture saga cannot be determined merely through contact with the Guptas. In the context of the Gupta contagion, enabled by the president and to some extent the ANC, very few people would have had Gordhan’s chutzpah to give the Guptas the cold shoulder.
During the state capture heydays, Gordhan and his former deputy Mcebisi Jonas displayed their integrity through their blunt refusal to be compromised. This made them outcasts.
But what was everybody else in the ANC and cabinet doing?
It is essential for Zondo and SA to understand how exactly the Guptas manipulated people to get them to use their positions to facilitate state capture.
In Jonas’s case, they attempted bribery. In other cases, they employed their proximity to the president and influence in circles of power.
In a written response to a parliamentary question from the DA, trade and industry minister Rob Davies admitted last month that he “met with members of the Gupta family on a number of occasions between 2009 and 2013”. He explained he first met Ajay Gupta when Duduzane Zuma brought him to Davies’s house in Cape Town. Gupta apparently complained that the Industrial Development Corporation was taking a long time to process their application for a mining project.
“As with innumerable similar representations made to me both before and since, I responded saying that as minister I could not and would not get involved in deciding on the merits of any particular application,” Davies said.
Davies said he was willing to appear before the Zondo Commission to explain this and other interactions with the family.
The problem will be for people such as Zuma, embattled home affairs minister Malusi Gigaba and former ministers Mosebenzi Zwane, Lynne Brown, Ben Martins and Faith Muthambi to explain their actions that contributed directly to the Guptas’ pillaging of the state.
Although some of them have been implicated in witness testimony, none of them has yet approached the commission to explain their role and how they came to surrender themselves to the Guptas.
With Gigaba currently on a PR roadshow to rescue his ragged reputation, perhaps he should lead the way to the witness stand. He was, after all, the person who opened up the Guptas’ access to major state-owned companies through the appointment of their cronies into key positions.
It will obviously not be easy for people to acknowledge that their ambition and greed, as well as political pressure, led to them succumbing to the Guptas.
But there would be some virtue in stepping up to help the inquiry and the nation understand the nature of the state capture beast.
History might be a little more generous towards those who take responsibility for their actions.