Confusing and bizarre: The short, shocking farce of Van Rooyen's reign
Lungisa Fuzile tells state capture probe what it was like during Des van Rooyen's brief stint as finance minister
The tragicomedy of Des van Rooyen’s brief stint as finance minister in December 2015 was on full display at the state capture inquiry on Thursday as former national treasury director-general Lungisa Fuzile recounted the department’s close encounter with state capture.
Fuzile told of Van Rooyen’s bizarre instructions to him, his confusion about his advisers appointed by the Guptas and the attempt to “decimate” the national treasury, whose excellence had been recognised worldwide.
Fuzile said on the morning after Nhlanhle Nene was axed, he advised Van Rooyen they should issue a media statement to counter the economic turmoil and sharp decline of the rand.
He said Van Rooyen refused and said “the tendency of treasury officials issuing statements must come to a stop”. Asked by advocate Vincent Maleka how he interpreted this, Fuzile said Van Rooyen had an “excessive preoccupation with authority”.
“It just seemed at that time he hadn’t come to terms with what his role was about. He just seemed to me from his reaction that he was oblivious to the fact that the currency was depreciating in the manner that it was and that he had a role to stave that off.”
He said Van Rooyen declined a handover meeting with Nene, which was a break with tradition.
Fuzile said at Van Rooyen’s swearing-in ceremony at the Union Buildings, Mohamed Bobat introduced himself to him as the minister designate’s adviser.
“I was taken aback because all the advisers that the department had had in my tenure had signed contracts with me,” Fuzile said.
He said Van Rooyen and Bobat seemed to not know each other.
“The relationship was not a normal one between minister and adviser, or people who know each other.”
Fuzile said the call he received from ANC national executive committee member Enoch Godongwana warning him he was going to get a “Gupta” minister with advisers given to him by the Guptas then made sense.
He said he understood Godongwana to be serious, “but it was like a fairytale”.
“This person was almost disdainfully telling me as the accounting officer he was working for government.”
Bobat instructed Fuzile to issue a media statement even though Van Rooyen had said he did not want to. He said it was “abnormal” and “illegal” for an adviser to issue a director-general with instructions.
“It appeared to me that Bobat did not care about protocol or civilities. He appeared determined to assert his authority over me. He was not an employee of the department at that time, and his role had never been explained to me by anyone other than himself. He gave me an impression of being a law unto himself,” said Fuzile.
After Van Rooyen was sworn in, he refused to shake Fuzile’s hand. “I was worried about the optics; the media would infer that he hates me and that I would, therefore, have to leave,” said Fuzile.
At a meeting, Van Rooyen pointed to Bobat saying he would be his chief of staff. Bobat then corrected him, saying he was to be his adviser.
Judge Raymond Zondo commented that if Van Rooyen was appointing his own advisers he could not have made such a mistake.
At an executive committee meeting, Van Rooyen also tripped up in introducing Bobat, as he did not seem to know his name.
He instructed Fuzile to process access cards for Bobat, Ian Whitley and Malcolm Mabaso, who was already employed at the department of mineral resources. Fuzile said Van Rooyen told him Mabaso would not be paid by the department but would “just be around”.
Bobat told him to accelerate the process to find suitable accommodation for Van Rooyen “so that he would not be easily accessible to people”, Fuzile said.
At the end of his testimony, Fuzile said what happened during Van Rooyen’s stint confirmed what former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas told him about the Guptas’ offer to him and their intention to axe top officials.
As a result, he wanted to leave the treasury.
“It was obvious to me that we were to end up with a minister who would be pliable, who would be weak. I wasn’t going to be there and be party to decimating an institution that was recognised worldwide,” said Fuzile.
He said his previous political heads, Pravin Gordhan and Jonas, were people “who hold our constitution very dear”.
“They were people who never sought to ask us to do things to help them gain personally.”
Fuzile said he did not come to the state capture inquiry to be a hero.
“The most important thing about it is the lesson for every South African. This is a country governed by a constitution and law.”