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Ntsele breaks conspiracy of silence as Guptas prepare to pounce on unbribeable ACSA boss

Dominic Ntsele
Dominic Ntsele

Communications strategist Dominic Ntsele is one of South Africa’s ultimate insiders. Deeply connected within the political and business elite, he is the go-to man for the rich and powerful suffering a serious reputational crisis. His past clients range from President Jacob Zuma and soccer boss Irvin Khoza to murdered mining magnate Brett Kebble. We’ve engaged personally and professionally for a couple decades so it wasn’t strange to see his name come up on my phone this morning. What was a surprise, though is his decision to come on the record to expose how the Gupta State Capture machine has thrived on what Ntsele calls “a conspiracy of silence.” He says his decision to break cover was inspired by Deputy Finmin Mcebisi Jonas – whose courage in exposing the Guptas encouraged Ntsele to commit that when he next came across something similar, he would speak up. The opportunity has emerged with a Gupta-inspired campaign to eject ACSA boss Bongani Maseko who is set to face trumped-up charges in an internal “kangaroo court”. Maseko, who attended the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida and held senior positions at US airports before joining ACSA 15 years ago, has been with ACSA for a decade and a half. He was the local airport management company’s COO from 2004 and CEO since May 2013. A member of ANC royalty and a respected manager, he refused to entertain those who tried to persuade him to “feed” them, including the Guptas who wanted him to turn OR Tambo International Airport into their private airfield. After Maseko refused this outrageous demand, the Guptas switched their attention to the Airforce Base at Waterkloof which was commandeered for wedding guests flown in from India. With the imminent release of the Public Protector’s State Capture report which incriminates them, it beggars belief that even now the Guptas are up to their tricks. But such is the blindness of delusion. Reminds one of Nero’s fiddling while Rome burned. – Alec Hogg

Joining me now from Johannesburg is Dominic Ntsele. Dom, you’re known as a communication strategist, an entrepreneur, the proprietor of Classic FM, but how would you describe yourself?

As an active citizen and a communication specialist really, over the years I’ve come to specialise in management of crisis, especially around issues of reputation, damage control, my energies can go to a different mode when facing a crisis than where the other people’s energies go.

You’ve been intimately involved with the ANC over the years, not least also with President Jacob Zuma.

Yes, I am not a member of the ANC, but I’m an active citizen and I helped in President Zuma’s case when I felt that the national prosecution authority at the time was treating him unfairly.

That’s going back some years.

Schabir Shaik
Schabir Shaik

Yes, that’s going back some years, that’s during the Schabir Shaik trial, at that time.

We were talking a little bit earlier and there’s one particular issue that has come very close to what you’re dealing with.

It’s an issue about ACSA, Airports Company South Africa. I am very close and I’ve been close to ACSA in that I’ve helped it’s management and CEO’s at different times around different issues; during the time when they were building airports in preparation for the World Cup, when they’ve had some regulatory issues, when there have been some medias, so around issues of reputation, I’ve advised them, I’ve handheld them in some here and I’ve come to know the organisation well and be close to it. That’s where my particular concern came from because I had been following the space, but then I learnt last week that the CEO would be suspended.

Let’s just talk a little bit about him, his name is Bongani Maseko, he’s got a long history in airports, administration.

Yes and admission, he is American educated, he has worked for airports in America. He worked at OR Tambo; there was a time when he was general manager. He was identified earlier on as one of the rising stars with proper credentials. It would be very hard; he occupies positions currently in international airport and aviation organisations. He is a very affable guy and I have come to know him as somebody who rejects corruption.

acsa_logoHe’s been running Airports Company South Africa since May 2013, but actually he’s been at the organisation for more than a decade before then as you say, running the Johannesburg International and then as Chief Operating Officer, so they’ve won many awards during that time and being American educated at a leading university in the US, one would presume that he knows what he’s doing.

Alec, he’s demonstrated to know what he’s doing. The Airports Company is perceived well, it’s one of the well-run state organisations and like all other organisations it has challenges, it deals with its challenges, so I’m not about to portray him as perfect, but his credentials are impeccable.

Now here’s a guy who’s been doing a good job at an organisation that has been highly respected, got quite a few awards, former CEO that’s been operating. Is he now coming under pressure from the state capture lobby?

Yes, he’s coming under enormous pressure from the state capture lobby. I know from very reliable sources that he is to be suspended tomorrow. The suspension is made to look like it’s ticking all the boxes on process. There was a report, which the CEO does not have a copy of, but I managed to get it through a media leak, I managed to get hold of a report which he is going to be suspended on the basis of a report which the chairman of the company and the board have refused to share with him, but which is available in the media.

That’s incredible.

It’s been leaked by one of the board members Advocate Moroka, I think he’s a legal person.

Why would he leak it?

Because he has to be presumed guilty and tried through without having had a chance, but in the conducting of the report, the report says it itself that he was not made to refute those charges which are carried in that report, which is kind of quite extraordinary and the report purports itself to be a forensic report. Now Alec, I’ve been involved in communication, media, and crisis for a long time, I’m an old hand. I can see when something is untoward from a distance and when I looked at this, I was alerted of it last week, and when I looked at it and I followed it and I spoke to journalists, I spoke to politicians, I spoke to people, I spoke to some of the people at ACSA and it was just simply stinking.

This does seem to be a little bit of a process that gets used where the chief executive doesn’t want to let people eat, in other words it doesn’t fall into the corrupt practices. Then they get allegations made against them on the basis of a report that has caused them to be suspended and that report is only investigated in months to come by which time a new, a more malleable individual has been put into their position and they’ve been forgotten.

That’s exactly their modus operandi and the report would stress that we’re not alleging that these are very serious charges, those reports, the suspension notices normally say “There are very serious charges on your way, this is whatever” and you know how the media normally report that. I remember when I dealt with the old empire cases, they say “If found guilty, this person must go to jail for 15 years” but nothing starts to change and at a later date the charges are then dropped, the settlement is reached and the objective of conducting the report and suspending the person, it’s a kangaroo court meant to replace somebody with somebody malleable.

Where else has this happened?

It’s happened in so many organisations at very different levels in almost half of the state departments involving DG’s. It is a standard practice by boards and sometimes by politicians when people do not play ball.

Where does it come from?

My investigation has revealed that it is the state capture specialist, but their key conduit on this board is a certain Advocate Moroka, he is a board member.

Is he part of the Gupta Organisation, is he being used by the Guptas? It’s pretty common knowledge, many of the –

I wouldn’t want to say that he is used. Normally they go into partnership. When you say they are used, it’s actually they’re the victim, they are not the victim, so we have the co-opting or capturing people and then capturing comrades, so he’ll fall under the category of capturing comrades.

Explain that.

If they need somebody in authority to be able to get into an organisation, so usually for example, in this case, the chairman of the board, Macozoma, has actually been a very fair… not that he doesn’t’ have a history, but he’s been the level-headed guy at ACSA for a long time, but then he applied to become the CEO of SANRAL, the South Roads Agency Limited, I think it is. He actually is supposed to have started on the 1st of November and he might be starting on the 1st of December as the CEO of SANRAL and usually somebody would have a job and then in their application of that job they would be told that they will get it unless they work with someone and then after getting the job then they have to deliver which is why you’ve seen people act in extraordinarily strange ways. They get appointed into a job and they do extraordinary things.

So you kind of say… you know when I was young I used to think that people are unthinking and now that I’ve grown a little bit in age, I tend to ask “What do they know which I don’t know?” and these people would act in a way which makes you question “What is going on, what do they know which I don’t know?” because they are doing is things very illogical. For example, Macozoma seems to be in a hurry to conduct or initiate a suspension over an investigation he would fail to preside on. He is leaving; he is going to be a CEO of another state entity.

So let me understand this, the Chief Executive of ACSA, Bongani Maseko is a man that you’ve known for a long time, he’s been working at ACSA over a decade, he fights corruption, he’s resisted corruption, but now you have a situation where he is being accused by the chairman of the organisation who has a job somewhere else that has opened up for him in the state entity and he’s been accused of things that, that person who’s making the accusations is not going to be around to fulfil them and you believe they trumped up charges, is that about it?

They are and if you read the pre-suspension notice, it says “The proposed suspension will be a precautionary matter which, in our view is in your interest as well as the interest of the company to ensure that further investigation continues in an unfettered manner”.

It almost sounds plausible.

It sounds plausible, it says “Step out of the way if you’ve got nothing to hide and we will put somebody in control” and it says that because initially because the law provides for the employer to be able to suspend somebody on reasonable suspicion. Therefore, if you’re just interested in process, it looks like a fair process, but is the process mired in corruption and to further corruption.

So it’s a process that has been used to meet nefarious ends of those who are pulling the strings and would that be the Gupta behind this?

Yes, it’s a connection click which takes us back to the Guptas.

gupta_state_capture
Cartoon courtesy of Twitter @brandanrey

How does one prove that?

People talk and you have to create an environment where people talk. I mean I have been able to go and get people to ask people what’s going on, to ask people what the process has been. Normally there is a big claim that you should kind of sue them. One of the things that need to be looked at is the process through which the CEO was appointed at SANRAL and it will be interesting. Alec, these things have succeeded in our country because people who know who have kept quiet for fear of victimisation or they said “It’s none of my business” and I think what you have seen happening today, what you have seen happening around Minister Pravin, has been people stopping saying “It’s none of my business” than getting involved.

Is that why you –

In this case I am close to reach so if I say somebody else should speak up, then I’m not an active citizen I claim I am. I cannot in good chance conscience knowing what I know, keep quiet for somebody else to say something somewhere and you know as well as you know me that I talk to journalists for a living, and I talk to politicians for a living. For example, when the Minister of Transport, Dipuo Peters, started asking questions, she received a note from the media which said is she trying to interfere in the process.

Again, those are the things which are designed, so the CEO, the company are now getting me enquiries from the media which says we have this report which has allegations of a serious nature and the CEO hasn’t even seen the report, the chairman has refused to share the report with him and when the report was compiled he was asked, or I’ve asked him, “Have you seen the report?” “No”, and unfortunately, he cannot make the allegations which I’m making. Therefore, I’m not making them on his behalf; I’m making them as a conscious active citizen who says things like this succeed when people like myself who are in the know keep quiet.

Dominic, it sounds a lot like what happened at SARS where the Sunday Times was given “certain information”, which subsequently we now know was a lot of rubbish, but they continued to publish it. Is that the strategy; is that the media manipulation that might have been behind this?

Yes and the media’s manipulation in that, for example, today the CEO received an SMS which I will send to you, which asked him to make himself available to respond to the questions in a report which he has not received and you remember when you read the report and the suspension letter talks about the public finance management act, it talks about awarding of tenders in whatever, I know for a fact and the chairman knows for a fact that Bongani Maseko does not adjudicate in any way.

He doesn’t participate in the tender process in any manner since he’s been CEO and that was the only time he would have been involved in something relating to a tender is if say you, Alec, had tendered and you did not or you felt that there was something irregular and immediately investigate, and you write to the CEO or you get your lawyers to write to the CEO and say “I did not like this process”. That’s the only time you’d get involved, but in who gets awarded, how it’s adjudicated, all of those are dealt with through processes at ACSA which he is not involved with. So I ask a question in this thing, “Why is the Chief Financial Officer not one of the people who have been suspended because she’s responsible for that process?”

So she’s involved in the tender process?

Yes, and she chairs the tender process and yet she is not suspended.

So the issue is to do with the tender, but the CEO who doesn’t involve himself in it has been suspended, but the CFO, Financial Director, who does involve is not suspended. What do you make of that approach?

I’ve seen too many of these things. You can almost see them coming.

If you’ve seen so many, why are you talking out now, why at this point?

I’m involved in this one and I can vouch for the things I say.

gupta_family
Gupta brothers

If the Guptas take you to court and say you’re lying about it?

I’ll be very willing to be taken to court by them and respond to this. Actually, I would love to be taken to court by Moroka, who is leading this process at our side, I believe that the Macozoma, the chairman has been handed a loaded gun as a thank you for the job at SANRAL.

What do you mean by that, “A loaded gun”?

He has to get Maseko’s head as he sent you before he goes.

So that somebody who is more-

More pliable, more prone to this should take over in his place.

Now Dom, you are well-connected, how widespread is this kind of practice within the state sector?

There are people who talk about capture by the Guptas. I think the biggest capture is capture by the comrades. We actually have reached the stage in our country right now where we have to have competent people whose struggle credentials or whatever credentials, who are family members or politicians and friends of whatever should not be getting jobs on that basis. We are just are having service delivery problems in our country because of how rife the corruption is and actually society has to stand up and anybody who sits in the position like me who knows of things like this which are happening, I must tell you that the Deputy Minister, Mcebisi Jonas touched me. When he came out I said I am not keeping quiet one more time when I know that this is happening because that makes me an accomplice.

Do you think there are other people who feel like you?

Alec, if you’ve never… because of the courage of the people who do wrong, they trust on us keeping quiet. It is not because of their courage, it is because they trust, and they know that we are going to keep quiet with what we know. People are unable to speak because of the victimisation they’ll suffer and therefore, I have information I will make the courts to make those people to speak. At least they can talk under correct, they will say that they were subpoenaed to respond on the basis of what they knew or what they know and I’ve had my assurances from those people that I have the affidavit and they’ll corroborate what they know if they are subpoenaed do to so. They have to be forced through a process of court or law, that way they won’t be victimised.

In this case you are very close to what’s happened and you are breaking the conspiracy of silence.

Yes, and vehemently so.

Would you encourage others to come forward?

Yes, that is the only way we are going to stop this from consuming our country and our democracy is at it’s delicate phase, it is in a forming phase. So if it forms in a way where all of these practices become our culture, well, we’re going to be one of those countries. You know, I’ve lived in America and I don’t think corruption doesn’t happen there, but the institutions are strong enough to be able to rip it out so that the corruption does not define them and you cannot say that for a lot of countries in our beloved continent.

Corruption actually defines them and we are a young, promising democracy of Nelson Mandela, which has to reject and you know I fought very vehemently that the prosecutor and the Scorpion and the cop cannot be the same person when [inaudible 0:20:00.5] had the MPA and the Scorpions reporting to him, I said “That makes us a banana republic, it means that one process can be abused for the benefit of the other” and today we have two institutions and it doesn’t seem to have helped because people have been employed in it, which continued to abuse state organs and we have to guard our state organs jealously and the only way we do so is if we report irregularities when they happen, because I can tell you if the CEO took this, it looks like a legitimate process on paper and it is nothing but legitimate. Tomorrow he’s going to avail himself at the kangaroo court.

If the Guptas have their way, because that’s who you say are behind all of this, he will be dismissed or put on suspension, some kind of a settlement would happen between now and the 18 months that it takes for this thing to come to process.

No true, Alec let me give it to you this way, if you remember when the Guptas ended up landing their plane full of their family members for a wedding in an airport, in a strategic zone where civilians land in planes, if you remember that?

Yes, the Waterkloof Air Force Base.

Their first attempt was at landing of the plane at OR Tambo in peak hour and they asked Bongani Maseko that he stops all other airlines from landing during the time when they will be using the tarmac at OR Tambo in the morning and he of course said “No”.

So all other airplanes flying into OR Tambo had to –

They had to be delayed or grounded so that they can be the only ones land, to not only land their plane on the tarmac, but to use the tarmac for all of those cars to pick up the people, basically use it like a private landing strip.

For their family and friends who were coming out to South Africa for a wedding?

Yes.

That sounds like the kind of thing that even a president of a country wouldn’t assume that it could do to stop all the other air traffic.

Yes, but a meeting like that was held where a request like that was made. I know it sounds ridiculous. That’s why I said to you, Alec, I’ve grown old enough, I would have said “That’s unthinkable”, but now I tend to ask the question “What did they know which I don’t know?”

What did they know?

I don’t know what they knew. I suppose they knew the hold they had on power.

Now you know Jacob Zuma well, we’ve followed his career, from activist, from a man who went to –

I befriended Jacob Zuma, you know that.

You did.

You have covered stories where I have defended Jacob Zuma. I fought on his side when he was being treated badly through when state organs were being abused against him. I have asked for him to be covered fairly in the media.

No, what went wrong here with him?

I suppose, I do not know. I think the people who surrounded him, I think he surrounded himself, because you know people called for Jacob Zuma to go, I said “That’s a futile exercise, I think a whole host of people have to go” because it has become a system.

You’d subscribe to the theory that there is a network of patronage?

Yes and that’s what has to go and it would be unfair on Jacob Zuma to say that he’s responsible for all of it, but clearly his presence doesn’t help it.

Dominic the other side of the coin is fingers been pointed at white monopoly capital that this is actually a white plot to plunder the country.

Yes, but do you remember when this thing started, one of the ways to fob it off was to blame it on whites. So for example, if you Alec, tried to do this story six years ago your [raise? 0:24:04.8] would have been important, Alec is saying that because he’s white and he perceives blacks in a certain way. Well, look at election results and you will understand that the people on the ground perceive it incorrectly, because if they did not, they would have overwhelmingly demonstrated their confidence in the system. I can tell you that the disgusting nature of state capture is not only talked about by white journalists or in white suburbs or whatever, it is being talked about in townships and in rural areas.

So we might finally be overcoming our obsession with race.

Yes and I think that the maturity the South African society has been able to demonstrate, is laudable, because people said Ah, you could just as well give up, the South African electorate is uneducated, it is driven by loyalty and tradition, there is no way it will grow”. Well, it did not. The South Africans are saying “We don’t like what we’re seeing”. To me it’s, faced with the challenges that we’ve got of transformation, of growth, of education, we cannot, as I said repeatedly today as we speak, that it is not the courage of those people who do these things, they count on us Alec.

The conspiracy of silence as you mentioned earlier, but it appears as though South Africa was structured in the best possible interests in 1994 for a president like Mandela, not for a president who could be captured. Surely that means that the whole system, the whole structure has to be relooked now that this young democracy has taken so much pain.

Yes and I see that, I mean you would have looked into the vigorous manner in which the successor to Thuli Madonsela was appointed, that we are getting there as a society. The initial public protectors were appointed with no fanfare, you know people didn’t even understand how significantly transformational and intervening a public protector could be and Thuli proved to all of us.

Just to close off with, this morning we heard an impassioned plea from Sipho Pityana, who has been one of the first leading businessmen to put his hand up to call state capture for what it is, but he has the people’s assembly went even further than that. Is he a man that has lost the plot, is he exaggerating now or is he calling it accurately?

No, he’s an insider, he’s a member of the ANC, and you haven’t only heard that from him. Cheryl Carolus, who is a stalwart said that they have to, for the organisation they love, they have to, unless they do something it will perish and therefore, they do that and I like what Jabu Mabuza said, “I do not want us to subvert the constitution and I do not want Jacob Zuma to be removed unconstitutionally”. Again, we will be one of those countries which have the people elect a president and remove him.

Sipho Pityana. Photo courtesy of Twitter @City_Press
Sipho Pityana

Therefore, in whatever they do, unless the president looks in the mirror and from his conscience resigns, he should not be removed artificially because we have set a precedent of removing elected officials and therefore, the ANC has a very tough task. Luckily for our country, we do not elect presidents, we don’t elect ministers, we elect parties and they put forward the people who should lead them and therefore, if those parties insist on people who make them unelectable, it’s their choice.

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