Zuma hears no evil in Parliament
President Jacob Zuma on Thursday answered allegations — contained in a new book — that he had received what appeared to be bribes by saying he had made full and proper disclosures.
“I did not receive any payments from private individuals or companies during my tenure as president of the Republic of South Africa other than those disclosed or reported to the necessary authorities,” Zuma said.
Not all such disclosures are public, and Zuma has failed to table a full set in Parliament, despite at least one formal request to do so. The Democratic Alliance had asked Zuma about the claim, in journalist Jacques Pauw’s book The President’s Keepers, that he had received a monthly “salary” from a business person even after taking office in 2009.
Zuma said books and articles were written about him all the time, and could only speculate as to why that was. His appearance in the National Assembly came after a week in which crucial evidence of state capture was put on the record in Parliament.
Some ANC leaders have consistently held that evidence of state capture drawn from the #GuptaLeaks emails could not be considered, because the source of the leaked emails was unknown and so their veracity would always be in doubt.
Parliament’s public enterprises portfolio committee is conducting a probe into state capture involving state-owned enterprises, and other committees are doing their own piecemeal investigations.
The evidence from Mosilo Mothepu, former chief executive of Trillian Financial Advisory and an early state capture whistle-blower, before the public enterprises committee was particularly damning.
Mothepu spent hours detailing how Eskom bent over backwards to do business worth hundreds of millions of rands with the Gupta-linked company.
Mothepu said Trillian group chief executive Eric Wood had not only known weeks in advance that then finance minister Nhlanhla Nene would be fired in 2015 but also emailed her details of the strategy his replacement, Des van Rooyen, planned to implement.
Details about alleged Gupta money laundering were also placed on the parliamentary record this week, albeit in the United Kingdom.
British peer and anti-apartheid activist Peter Hain told that assembly he had handed over information. Hain did not disclose his source, but the context suggested the information had come from a whistle-blower in global banking group HSBC.
“This information shows illegal transfers of funds, from South Africa, made by the Gupta family over the last few years from their South African accounts to accounts held in Dubai and Hong Kong,” said Hain.
“The last columns of each sheet [handed to the UK treasury] show the relevant banks involved. The records show all account numbers used. Many of the transactions are legitimate. But many certainly are not.”
The details of how money flowed from South Africa to Dubai and back to South Africa have been extensively documented in the media, complete with visits to the letter-box companies used in the transfers. These reports have been labelled speculation and even fake news.
Also on Wednesday, a former business rescue practitioner for Optimum Coal, Piers Marsden, told Parliament how Eskom had helped the Gupta family to buy that mine — details also previously published, which were also largely dismissed.
While Marsden, Hain and Mothepu were providing their evidence, some of those implicated maintained their total or partial silence, though their reasons for doing so grew ever more tenuous.
In mid-October the mining minister, Mosebenzi Zwane, refused to answer some questions put to him by the portfolio committee on mineral resources, claiming that the issues were before a court and so sub judice and not open for discussion. This week that portfolio committee received an opinion from the parliamentary legal office that both stressed the committee’s responsibility to hold Zwane to account and dashed the sub judice defence.
Yet the different streams of investigation under way seem likely to be used as a shield by those implicated.
“In my view, the matters raised by you in your enquiry are currently subject to a multiplicity of official processes. It is important that these processes be allowed to discharge their mandate,” Siyabonga Mahlangu said in response to the Mail & Guardian this week.
Mahlangu was a special adviser to Malusi Gigaba, now the minister of finance. In mid-October former Eskom chief executive Brian Dames told Parliament it had been Mahlangu who first introduced him to the Gupta family, or at least their representatives.
Zuma on Thursday also cited the sub judice rule, telling Parliament that was why he could not previously establish a commission of inquiry into state capture, as he had been ordered to do by former public protector Thuli Madonsela in 2016.
On Tuesday Zuma for the second time radically altered his stance on the court case in which he is challenging Madonsela’s instructions, telling the high court in Pretoria he would set up a commission of inquiry within 30 days.
However, Zuma made no commitment that he would recuse himself from selecting the judge to look into matters focused on himself.
Opposition parties have strongly argued that allowing Zuma to appoint the chair of the commission would be an affront to justice and would make it impossible for the public to trust the outcome. Zuma may, or may not, choose to allow the chief justice to select the commission chair — as Madonsela had directed — Zuma’s legal team told the court.
If he chooses not to, those who objected could return to court and start a fresh process seeking to make him do so. — Additional reporting by Lisa Steyn and Gemma Ritchie