By Ferial Haffajee
State Capture required a golden triangle to succeed, if the evidence in the public domain is correct.
That triangle included a president to provide political space for rent extraction (Jacob Zuma) and a patronage family who strategised where and how to “repurpose” the state to secure the highest proceeds (the Guptas). It needed a third angle – a link between the political leaders and the patrons.
That third angle in State Capture is Jacob Zuma’s urbane and telegenic 35-year-old son, Duduzane Zuma (hereafter Zuma), who appeared before the Zondo Commission of Inquiry this week.
By the time his father became president, Zuma was in business with the Gupta family who had given him a job when he struggled to find work, both he and his father have previously testified. From the time his father was inaugurated, his business career took off at a pace to rival that of the boy wonders of Silicon Valley.
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By the time he turned 30, Zuma had substantial interests in mining, mining services, media and other parts of the Gupta family empire as he was repeatedly cut in as a significant shareholder.
In his testimony this week, there was ample evidence of how well he did: he lived/lives in a Saxonwold mansion; he drove luxury cars which included a two-door Mercedes in which he transported former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas to the R600m bribe meeting; he picked up a former KZN Hawks boss in a white Rolls-Royce from the Gautrain train station, to take him to meet the Guptas, the commission heard.
With his trademark Mohican haircut, tailored suits and natural charm, it was as if a rock star had descended on the austere premises of the commission in Johannesburg.
Commission staff, journalists, police officers and other people (more women than men) followed him, asking for selfies. He flashed smiles, pumped a hand here and there and dished out hugs and good-naturedly posed for gigabytes of selfies.
A white pack of seven lawyers
He was backed by an all-male, all-white pack of seven lawyers who are among the best criminal defenders in the country. The team sought to craft his defence between plausible deniability and outright denial.
Zuma is one of three names that have come up most often in 14 months of testimony before the Zondo commission. The other two are Jacob Zuma and Minerals and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe. This week, Zuma responded to the testimony of six witnesses who have named him. He dealt with:
- Mcebisi Jonas’s testimony that the Gupta family offered him R600m to become finance minister and tilt economic policy to their interests;
- His alleged interference with former mineral resources minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi on behalf of the Guptas and their acquisition of a mine. Former Ramatlhodi adviser advocate Sam Muofhe (now head of the State Security Agency) also testified to Zuma’s role;
- The Estina dairy farm matter where the Guptas won a Free State dairy project which soured;
- His alleged facilitation of a meeting between former KZN Hawks boss Johan Booysen and the Guptas where the cop was offered the job of national Hawks head; and
- His ownership of Infinity Media which was a major stakeholder in ANN7, the now-defunct TV station that was at the centre of state capture propaganda.
In his two days of testimony on Monday October 6 and Tuesday October 7, Zuma outright denied the evidence of Ramatlhodi and Muofhe, of Booysen, of Mxolisi Dukwana, the former Free State MEC who testified in the Estina block of evidence as well as that of Rajesh Sundaram, the short-lived editor of ANN7.
He called Sundaram’s evidence of his role in helping direct government advertising to the station “creative writing” and said the advertising flows were laudable state support for a “start-up” company.
He completely denied Ramatlhodi and Muofhe’s evidence insofar as it applied to him.
Also read: The Gupta Empire is falling: Say goodbye to that Porsche, Duduzane Zuma – OUTA
He said, “Any formal setting with Minister Ramatlhodi has never happened,” and, “I have never had a discussion like that,” in relation to the former minister’s testimony.
He said Dukwana’s evidence that he had heard a Gupta brother bragging that millions of rand were paid to Zuma and ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule was hearsay and challenged the commission to show him the evidence.
He said Booysen and he were friends and had agreed that he would take the then Hawks boss to meet “my guys” – his term for the Guptas. Booysen had made it sound a far more coercive meeting.
Jonas vs Zuma – the R600m bribe meeting
That left a single area of probing this week which is likely to feature prominently as the commission completes its work of determining whether or not there was a system of State Capture in South Africa and whether or not the Gupta family were able to manipulate former President Zuma to do their bidding.
This centrepiece is the bribe offered to Jonas to become finance minister by the Gupta family at a meeting arranged by Zuma. At the time, Jonas was deputy minister to the then finance minister Nhlanhla Nene, who would be fired two months later.
The date was October 23, 2015. Jonas had wrapped up a meeting at Nedlac in Rosebank, Johannesburg and headed for the Hyatt Regency hotel in the suburb.
Here is Jonas’s version of what happened, according to commission transcripts:
“When Mr Duduzane [Zuma] arrived at the Hyatt hotel, we had a brief discussion. He appeared pretty nervous and spoke in very vague terms. He said nothing of substance except to say that his father, then president Jacob Zuma, liked me. After a while I indicated that I was under time pressure.
“He said that the place was too crowded and that he had important matters to discuss, but that he wanted other people to join the discussion and that he wanted to drive to a more private place, which he said was close by… I assumed we would be going to an office nearby, so I said, ‘let’s go’.”
Zuma’s version is that Jonas knew they were headed to the Gupta estate up the road in Saxonwold.
Zuma testified this week: “Did he jump into my car even though he did not know where I was going to take him to? He knew exactly where we were going to.”
Both the evidence leader, advocate Phillip Mokoena, and Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo probed Zuma extensively on why the meeting was held at the Gupta mansion and not at Zuma’s own home which is a one-minute drive and a seven-minute walk away from Sahara Estate, the Guptas’ compound.
Zuma replied: “Uncle Fana [Hlongwane, the arms deal fixer and Gupta business buddy who was also at the meeting] said he was not comfortable meeting in a public space. It was a hotel lobby and they [Hlongwane] and Jonas wanted the meeting changed to somewhere closer, [so] there’s the house where I do work from and there are offices there at the Gupta residence.
“I don’t conduct meetings from my personal home. [The Gupta residence offers] printing facilities, staff, catering, food, water, coffee and it makes it easier than sitting in a coffee shop.”
Justice Zondo questioned Zuma extensively on the venue:
“In your own house, you would receive friends and if you receive friends, you would offer them drinks, so why would catering facilities at the Gupta residence be an important factor?
“Hlongwane was your friend and the other [Jonas] was your friend’s friend. If you have two or three friends in your home, I am sure you can afford them drinks. This was a meeting where you sought to afford two friends who had a private issue to discuss and it seems to me there should be no reason why you can’t have two friends in your home.”
There’s a Gupta in my meeting
Zuma’s version of the meeting is he was playing “mediator, facilitator, convenor” to sort out issues between Jonas and Hlongwane even though he and the deputy finance minister had never formally met each other.
Asked what had been discussed, Zuma said, “Lots of questions about rumours were canvassed. I had the discussion with Uncle Fana. Mr Jonas denied the fact of blackmail but not the rumour. The meeting ended and we agreed that we would pick it up on another occasion. I walked Mr Jonas out and that was the end of that – a driver took him to where he was going.”
On a Gupta brother being present, Zuma said one had only peeked in.
“Rajesh Gupta made an appearance purely to get my attention for confirmation of a [different] meeting. He got my attention and I walked out of the room and that was for a short period.”
Also read: Strangling Zupta: SA moves on Guptas, Duduzane Zuma, freezes Free State assets
Jonas’s version is that a Gupta brother was key to the meeting – he told the Zondo Commission in his maiden testimony in August last year that it was either Ajay Gupta or Rajesh “Tony” Gupta and that he might initially have got the identity wrong. Many people confuse the three brothers – Atul Gupta is the third.
“We went into the house and Mr Duduzane Zuma and Mr Hlongwani [as spelt in commission transcripts] led me to a lounge where we sat down and started chatting. Neither [of them] suggested the meeting would involve any of the Gupta family members. We had not spoken for a very long time when one of the Gupta brothers walked into the room and sat down. I had not previously met any of the Gupta brothers, but I recognised him as one of the Gupta brothers from media reports,” said Jonas in the transcript of his testimony.
“[Zuma and Hlongwane] both remained silent while Mr Gupta spoke and they did not participate in the interaction which followed although they both remained in the room. Mr Gupta opened the conversation by stating that ‘we know you’ and that he had been told that I was being blackmailed by Mr Hlongwani. I replied that this was not true. He responded by saying that this is not why he had called me anyway.
“He said, ‘we have been gathering intelligence on you’… he emphasised that they, which I understood to be the Gupta family, have the capability to gather such information and that they had gathered a lot of information on me which they could use against me. He said that as far as he was concerned, this meeting never happened and that one day if I were to suggest that this meeting had occurred, they would destroy my political career.
“Mr Gupta said the old man, referring to the President, seemed to like me and that they have called me to check me out and ‘to see whether they can work with us’. He also said that the President was going to fire Mr Nene because he would not work with him. I understood this again to be a reference to the Gupta family,” said Jonas who appeared surprised that the two people he was meant to be meeting with said nothing.
“[Hlongwane and Zuma] were in the room quiet as if they don’t exist. Mr Gupta ignored what I said [that he was not interested in the job] and he said emphatically that I must become the Minister of Finance because that is what we want and by that, I thought he meant I would have to work with them.
“He also said that if I worked with them, I would become very rich and that he could immediately offer me R600m. He pointed at Mr Duduzane Zuma and said they have made [him] a billionaire and that he had bought a house in Dubai.”
Mokoena intervened at this point: “Now I just want to make sure that your evidence is accurately captured when you refer to the offer, is that R600m that you were offered?”
To which Jonas replied “R600m, yes,” before continuing his testimony.
“I said that I was going to leave and stood up to leave. I said that I was not interested in being a minister of finance and if he thought that I would work with them, he would have to tell me precisely what it is that they do.”
(Jonas told the commission he was trying to extract information from them to inform civil society’s then-growing movement against State Capture).
“At that point [Zuma and Hlongwane] also stood up. I was angry at this stage and he [not clear who from transcripts, but probably Duduzane Zuma] said everything they do is legal and they create jobs and contribute to the economy. He said that at the moment, we, which I understood again to be the Gupta family, earn about R6bn from the fiscus… he said they wanted to increase this amount to R8bn and that they thought I could be helpful in this regard. Mr Gupta said that they had determined that the National Treasury was a stumbling block for their growth and that they wanted to ‘clean up the Treasury’.”
Jonas told the commission his version of how the meeting had ended.
“I began to walk away and Mr Gupta motioned to both [Zuma and Hlongwane] to hang back and as I was walking to the door of the house, Mr Gupta directed me to a bar area and said that they were serious about offering me R600m and that it would be deposited into an account of my choice and that they could open up an account for me, I could stash it in Dubai.
“He said that to show that they were serious, ‘I can give you R600,000 now’ and asked [me], ‘Do you have a bag or can I give you something to put [it] in? He seemed to want to show the cash to me. I said to him that I did not want money and I thought that he was going to tell me what it is that they do.
“Then he told Duduzane to arrange that I come back the following Tuesday and that he should tell me to bring a bag. I asked Mr Zuma to take me back to my car. Mr Gupta said he wished to continue the meeting with Mr Zuma and another car would take me to the airport. At the end of the meeting, Mr Gupta repeated that they had information on me and if I suggested that the meeting had occurred, they would kill me.”
This ended Jonas’s version of what had happened in the meeting. There are now two versions on the table for the commission to decide, in weighing them up, which is the truth and which is “fiction” as Zuma on Tuesday labelled Jonas’s account.
Zuma listened attentively and answered patiently with nuggets of humour and dollops of swag. At the end of his testimony, he said: “I have been mentioned in all sorts of lights and I did not have the opportunity to give my side of events,” and thanked Justice Zondo and the commission for allowing him to do so.
He added, “The perception in the court of public opinion driven by a media narrative is that I am looked at as the face of corruption and the guy who has plundered trillions out of the country. I am not corrupt and I did not do that. When you see me walking around, that’s not me,” said Zuma as his words went viral across social media.
The most common tweet about him after his evidence on Monday was an image of him with words to the effect that, “If that is what corruption looks like, I want some.”
There were a few more questions from Justice Zondo and then Zuma’s testimony closed. He got up to the clicks of the photographers’ shutters and walked out. Probably straight on to his plane. Zuma is said to live in Dubai now. So do the Guptas.
Mcebisi Jonas is now the chairperson of MTN and a director of other companies. He is campaigning for a new social contract in South Africa and for the speeding up of reforms to ensure State Capture does not happen again. He has written a book called After Dawn: Hope after State Capture. Do read it. DM