Guptas corrupt? The witnesses were all fibbing, says Manyi
But he appears confused when grilled about The New Age getting a lion’s share of government advertising
Former government spokesperson Mzwanele Manyi on Monday denied the Guptas had been implicated in serious corruption and state capture at the Zondo commission.
Under cross-examination of evidence leader Vincent Maleka, Manyi first said he did not know if the Guptas were implicated and then said he “struggled to find evidence to corroborate the claim” that the Guptas were incriminated.
Manyi said most of the witnesses had been “poetic” in their testimony and told justice Raymond Zondo he ought to “take the cup” for bringing real evidence. He said he doubted the evidence of state capture presented by former government spokesperson Themba Maseko, former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas, public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan and former National Treasury director-general Lungisa Fuzile.
But under rigorous cross-examination by Maleka on evidence he himself presented on government advertising in Gupta-owned The New Age when he was the department’s head, Manyi started to come undone. He resorted to filibustering and complained to Zondo about “loaded questions” from Maleka.
Manyi, who inherited the Guptas’ media entities through what he called a “vendor-financing deal”, is the first witness to face cross-examination at the state capture inquiry since public hearings began in August.
Maleka had to hold back on posing questions until Monday afternoon as Manyi insisted on first presenting his own evidence, as he did on his first appearance at the inquiry two weeks ago.
Manyi defended R8.7m in government advertising in The New Age newspaper in its first year of operation, saying that was justified because the newspaper was not as hostile to the government as the rest of the mainstream media. He said at the time the government was facing “a serious media onslaught”.
Manyi also claimed The New Age was stigmatised and had to close down because it exposed white-collar corruption.
But when challenged by Maleka that the paper and its sister entity ANN7’s reporting on alleged corruption at the treasury also constituted critical coverage of the state, Manyi claimed not to understand. He then said the reason The New Age got more spending was because other media “get things wrong”.
Manyi had to concede major newspapers such as City Press, The Star and The Times all received less than R200,000 in advertising from government in the 2011-2012 year compared to R8.7m spent on The New Age.
Daily Sun, which has the biggest daily circulation, only received R8,788 in government advertising that year.
Manyi said The New Age did not have Audit Bureau of Circulations figures to verify its circulation statistics but conducted its own audit to determine its readership. He said the reason The New Age received the lion’s share of advertising was because the government was “embracing” its newness and the paper would not contain factual inaccuracies in its reporting, compared to other media.
Zondo pointed out The New Age had interviewed him when he became deputy chief justice and the article was riddled with false information that he did not say.
Manyi seemed not to understand that Zondo’s criticism was directed at The New Age and responded: “I rest my case.”
He claimed the government also spent as much as it did on The New Age because of transformation priorities and then the target market of the paper.
Earlier, former treasury head of communications Phumza Macanda told the inquiry how she was bullied by Mohamed Bobat, the adviser to Des van Rooyen during his short stint as finance minister.
He demanded all media statements had to be approved by him before being issued.
His manner was quite aggressive and almost hostile, Macanda said.
She confirmed testimony presented by Lungisa Fuzile last week that Van Rooyen did not seem to know Bobat and Ian Whitley, who were allegedly assigned as his senior staff by the Guptas.