Zuma was corrupt from the start: ex-spin doctor
Themba Maseko is part of the first round of witnesses before the Zondo state capture probe
He hero-worshipped Jacob Zuma for years, but former government spin doctor Themba Maseko is willing to put his life on the line when he places the former president at the centre of the state capture scandal.“For me it was a question of exposing the malfeasance ... I have come to realise that he [Zuma] was a corrupt man right from the beginning,” he said, adding that he has not spoken to Zuma since exposing his involvement in the scandal which is estimated to have cost the country in excess of R100bn.For six years the former Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) head thought he was the only one that was bullied by the Gupta family into unlawfully facilitating deals with the state.
But, when former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas came forward in 2016 to confirm that the notorious family offered him the job of finance minister and a R600m bribe in lieu of diverting government deals to them, Maseko said he was emboldened to speak out about his experience in 2010.“When I saw the Mcebisi matter, that they offered him R600m and they demanded that he gives them certain things, I realised that maybe I was taking this thing too personal. For me the Jonas statement brought it home – it’s bigger than me. It’s a campaign to loot the state – and I felt I needed to talk about it,” Maseko said in an interview last week.
Maseko is part of the first round of witnesses called to give evidence before the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture, which starts on Monday.
His testimony is critical in placing Zuma at the centre of helping the Guptas score lucrative deals from the state.
Zuma infamously told Maseko in a telephone conversation in 2010, while the latter was en route to a meeting with the Guptas at their Saxonwold home: “My brother, there are these Gupta guys who need to meet with you and who need your help. Please help them.”
The Sunday Times reported this week that Zuma has been asked by the commission whether he used information he got as president to help enrich himself and the Guptas.Maseko is expected to start testifying before the inquiry on August 31 about how Ajay Gupta threatened to speak to his seniors in the government to “sort him out or replace him” because he refused to cooperate with his demand that GCIS advertising spend be diverted to the Gupta-owned New Age newspaper.
Months later, in February 2011, Maseko was removed as head of GCIS.He recalled the incident at a cabinet meeting in Pretoria: “There was a tea break. I go outside then I get a call from the office to say that journalists are trying to get hold of me to say you’ve been fired. And eNews was running a story. I go to my minister, Collins Chabane, and say this is the story. He says no, he doesn’t know, he will check. He went to the president and the president confirmed that ‘ja, it’s true’. And Collins came back to me and said it was true.”
Maseko said it was difficult for him to come to terms with the fact that an ANC leader he hero-worshipped as a student activist could do something as bad as this.
He said that when he decided to come forward with his story in 2016, he panicked about how people would react, but he doesn’t regret it.“I never thought it would get this far … giving evidence before the commission and even possibly a trial, if there is a trial, because this may lead to prosecutions,” he said.
Maseko was approached by investigators working for the commission soon after it was formed, and gave a statement. He had several other meetings as investigators tried to corroborate the chronology of events that took place eight years ago.While there are no call records or vehicle tracking information because of the big time lapse, the commission may go to Reverend Frank Chikane and former president Kgalema Motlanthe, who Maseko told about the incident after it happened.
He also reported the matter to his minister, the late Collins Chabane.
Maseko gave a statement to former public protector Thuli Madonsela and to former ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe who in 2016 called on people to come forward with information about state capture. Maseko was the only one prepared to give a written submission and said he was naïve in believing in the process.
“I know that many people in the ANC knew that this shit was happening. They were scared to talk. Zuma had become so powerful that people were literally scared to speak. There were murmurings and whispers but very few, if any, were prepared to speak up to say,” he said.