PIC Inquiry hosts its star witness: Will the real Dr Dan please stand up?

After six months and testimony from around 70 witnesses, Mr Justice Lex Mpati’s Commission of Inquiry into the PIC moves up a few levels today. Former PIC chief executive Dr Dan Matjila takes the stand to answer allegations about pushing through some apparently dirty deals – specifically loans to media mogul Iqbal Survé – and a supposedly bristling management style that has been criticised in great detail. The star witness’s prepared statement suggests Matjila will be blaming others for the misfortunes – and his dismissal as head of the operation which oversees management of the retirement of one third of SA’s workers who are in formal employment. – Alec Hogg

Public Investment Corporation (PIC) CEO Dan Matjila did not have a romantic relationship with a woman named Pretty Louw, but he did intervene inappropriately on her behalf at the behest of then intelligence minister David Mahlobo. – Carol Paton Business Day 17/10/2018

A source close to the process disclosed to Independent Media on Tuesday that it is expected that Matjila will be cleared by the Budlender inquiry of all allegations about a relationship between him and the owner of Maison Holdings (MST), Pretty Louw. – Adri Senekal de Wet IOL 17/10/2018

By Ed Herbst*

The former CEO of the Public Investment Corporation, Dr Dan Matjila is due, this morning, to begin four days’ of testimony before the Mpati commission of inquiry into allegations of impropriety at the organisation.

He does so in the light of his former employer’s damning allegations against him as reflected in the papers filed in the Cape High Court a month ago. The PIC is attempting to annul the somewhat dubious R4.3bn AYO contract in favour of Dr Iqbal Survé’s companies which Matjila ratified without following protocol.

Matjila’s defence will be that he is the victim of a political conspiracy by people who want to influence the PIC’s investment decisions.

As someone who is interested in the way local media covers matters of political importance, I was struck by the difference between the reporting of the Budlender findings as reflected on 17 October last year by Carol Paton of Business Day and Adri Senekal de Wet of Dr Iqbal Survé’s Sekunjalo Independent Media.

The Budlender report is available online on the Department of Justice website and the difference in the way the two journalists reflected its contents is stark.

The headlines tell their own stories:

Business Day: PIC’s Dan Matjila did a favour at the behest of David Mahlobo

IOL: PIC Chief Dan Matjila is cleared of corruption charges

In essence, Budlender found that there was no truth in the accusation made in leaked emails that Matjila had or was involved in a romantic relationship with a beauty spa owner named Pretty Louw.

Budlender did find, however, that he had inappropriately succumbed to pressure from the former minister of state security, David (Signal Jammer) Mahlobo who Al Jazeera has doubts about.

This fact has never been disclosed to readers of Independent Newspapers organs who have also not been told that Survé reneged on paying the R1bn PIC loan which enabled him to gain control of the largest group of English newspapers in the country.

Rent arrears

The Budlender report had its origins in the sheriff of the court wanting to seize the assets of Ms Louw’s beauty spa in Benmore, Johannesburg during October 2016 because she owed R330,000 in rent arrears.

She phoned Matjila who then approached businessman Lawrence Mulaudsi on her behalf. Mulaudsi heads a BBBEE consortium which had received funding from the PIC.

Mulaudsi, who had never previously met Louw, then paid the needed amount into her account.

He told the Mpati commission he felt it incumbent upon him to do so because… you never wanted to be ostracised by Dr Matjila. It was known in the investment space that his influence was significant.”

So how did Ms Louw become so influential in the life of Dan Matjila?

You’ll find the answer on pages 39 and 40 of Geoff Budlender’s report.

109.3 Third, it could be that Dr Matjila felt under pressure in this regard, because Minister Mahlobo had called him to a meeting at the airport to introduce him to Ms Louw, and to ask him to assist Ms Louw. When we put that possible explanation to Dr Matjila, after some hesitation, he said that this was in fact the reason. What distinguished Ms Louw from the many other disappointed PIC applicants was that she had been brought to him by a Cabinet Minister, and he felt a need to respond to that.

110 Dr Matjila said that in fact he had not met Minister Mahlobo on just one occasion, but “probably three, four times” to “report back” on “various matters”, including this one. He said “I unfortunately have to respect the Ministers. When they call I come to listen you know, to what they have to say.”

111 Dr Matjila subsequently said that he had four or five meetings with Minister Mahlobo, at the following venues: at the Minister’s home in Pretoria, at the OR Tambo international Airport, and at the Sheraton Hotel in Pretoria.

Political pressure

And that’s the gravamen of the Budlender report – that Matjila openly acknowledged to the advocate that he was susceptible to political pressure which is disturbing in a man who controlled R2trn in assets and seemed happy to distribute billions to ANC-linked people.

When Budlender asked Louw how she knew Mahlobo, she said he was a customer at her spa and one tends to believe that because information about his penchant for spa visits is already in the public domain.

Prior to the Nasrec presidential election in December 2017, Iqbal Survé threw his weight behind the NDZ campaign, one of his newspapers the Sunday Independent sought to undermine the CR17 campaign and, according to an un-denied article by a former employee, Dougie Oakes, he instructed all his editors to attend a meeting with her. This was without precedent in South African newspaper history.

Former AYO employees Siphiwe Nodwele and Kevin Hardy have told the Mpati commission of the desperation within AYO to get the profitable R4.3bn deal done before the 2017 Nasrec election because of the fear – justified as it turns out – that Iqbal Survé’s friend and apparent patron, ‘our Brother in Tshwane’, might not be able to dispense patronage ‘like smarties’ if the Zuma faction lost the presidential election.

PIC employees have told the Mpati commission how Matjila hustled the AYO contract to completion in a record three weeks.

It is therefore unsurprising that the thrust of the Sekunjalo Independent Media reporting on the Mpati commission hearings up to now have been in support of Matjila and against the commission.

Here are some of the headlines:

Survé has always dismissed anyone who criticises his conduct or his business practices as anti-transformation racists with a right-wing agenda.

His newspapers are faithfully following his dictated script and are now using the same tactic to besmirch the evidence leader of the commission, advocate Jannie Lubbe.

We will know, probably by mid-August, whether this accusation has found any traction with the Mpati commissioners.

A few weeks’ later two editors formerly employed by Iqbal Survé. Alide Dasnois and Chris Whitfield, will publish their tell-all account about how he effectively bankrupted the company and destroyed its news credibility while taking home a salary of half a million rand a month and claiming incredible feats of treating Nelson Mandela ‘on and off the Island’, receiving an Amnesty International Award and assisting Bafana Bafana to win the 1996 African Cup of Nations tournament.

For the moment though, we await the testimony of the beleaguered man who believed that he ruled the PIC and further news of Iqbal  Survé’s R100m defamation claim against Terry Bell.

  • Ed Herbst is a veteran journalist who these days writes in his own capacity.