Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo at the commissions first public hearing on state capture and corruption. (Gulshan Khan/AFP)
The third week of the Zondo commission of inquiry into allegations of state capture is set to begin with the continuation of the testimony of acting government communication and information systems (GCIS) head Phumla Williams.
Williams, on Friday, blew the lid off how the department was “captured” following the termination of Themba Maseko.
Williams’ testimony followed that of Maseko, the former GCIS head who was approached in 2010 by Gupta patriarch, Ajay, who allegedly attempted to strong-arm him into spending the department’s R600-million media buying budget on buying advertising in Gupta-owned newspaper, The New Age (TNA).
Maseko’s testimony last Wednesday and Thursday also detailed how he allegedly received a phone call from former president Jacob Zuma, asking him to aid the Gupta brothers with placing the government advertisements.
Williams’ testimony on Friday recounted the moments following the announcement of Maseko’s termination. Maseko was replaced by self-proclaimed Zuma loyalist Mzwanele Manyi.
Williams told the commission that Manyi was introduced to GCIS staff before Maseko had even finished packing up his desk. She also recounted certain key changes made by Manyi to the department’s procurement processes.
Under Manyi’s leadership, tender processing was to be signed off by him and not the bid adjudication committee. Manyi also demanded that the media buying division report directly to him, Williams said.
Williams also testified about the infamous TNA business breakfasts. The breakfasts, which featured political heavyweights including Zuma, were broadcast live by the SABC at no cost to TNA.
After a short adjournment in Friday’s session, Williams revealed that Manyi had sent her an SMS asking her to tell the commission that the business breakfasts did not happen during his time at the helm of GCIS.
The revelation resulted in head of the legal team Advocate Paul Pretorius SC calling for Manyi to be summoned by the commission to answer for the communication, which he suggested was an attempt to prejudice the inquiry.
But Manyi was not the only heavyweight to be implicated by Williams. Much of Williams’ testimony on Friday was spent recounting the allegedly prejudicial treatment she experienced under the leadership of then Communications Minister Faith Muthambi.
When Muthambi’s ministry took over responsibility of GCIS, Williams had been shortlisted to take over as the permanent head of the department. But Williams was subsequently notified that interviews for the position had been cancelled indefinitely.
This was allegedly connected to a series of complaints made against Williams by Muthambi, including a complaint that Williams had failed to address Muthambi as “Honourable” in official correspondence.
Williams recounted how tensions between herself and Muthambi came to a head when her position as acting GCIS director general was withdrawn. Williams was replaced by Donald Liphoko, who had been brought into GCIS by Manyi. Liphoko remained in the position until 2017, when new Communications Minister Ayanda Dlodlo finally reinstated Williams.
It is expected that Williams will conclude her testimony on Monday.
Meanwhile the commission has claimed its first victim. Hawks anti-corruption task team unit head Zinhle Mnonopi was suspended last Thursday afternoon. Mnonopi had been implicated in Mcebisi Jonas’s testimony.
The testimony delivered by Jonas, the former deputy minister of finance who was allegedly offered a promotion and a bribe of R600-million by the Guptas in exchange for his co-operation, levelled the first serious allegations against the Hawks at the commission: Mnonopi had tried to foil an investigation into the aforementioned bribe.Jonas recounted how Mnonopi had allegedly attempted to coerce him to sign a statement that would halt the police investigation into the matter.
Advocate for the Hawks Vincent Siwela told the Mail & Guardian on Monday morning that despite Mnonopi’s suspension, he would still be representing her as well as advocate Mandla Mtolo — who was implicated in former ANC MP Vytjie Mentor’s testimony as having attempted to “corrupt” her statement against the Guptas and Zuma.
On Monday Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, the commission’s chair, is also expected to make a determination on when applications of implicated persons to cross examine will be heard.