Duduzani Zuma. (Brendan Croft/Gallo Images/Foto24)
Duduzane Zuma and Fana Hlongwane have said that their infamous meeting at the Guptas’ Saxonwold compound with former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas was merely to clear up rumours that Hlongwane was blackmailing Jonas.
In sworn statements submitted to the commission of inquiry into state capture, the two also insisted that at no point during the meeting was the position of finance minister offered to Jonas. Zuma also said that no threat was made to Jonas’s life.
The statements— setting out Zuma’s and Hlongwane’s version of events — were made to support their applications to cross-examine Jonas. Their applications have been granted and it is expected that all three will be grilled on their versions.
In his statement controversial arms deal adviser and businessman Hlongwane said he had known Jonas for “many years and … we became good friends”, adding that they “in fact tried to negotiate a number of transactions in the past”.
But in October 2015, he was made aware by Zuma “that Mr Jonas had made allegations to the effect that I was blackmailing him”.
“These allegations seemed incredible and completely at odds with our relationship and the true facts,” said Hlongwane. He was “very perturbed” and asked the young Zuma to “urgently convene a meeting between the three of us”.
According to Zuma, he met Jonas at the Hyatt hotel on the afternoon of October 23 2015, because “rumours were surfacing in general that Mr Jonas allegedly claimed that Mr Hlongwane blackmailed him (Jonas) in some or other manner. These rumours were regarded as very serious.”
Neither Hlongwane nor Zuma give any further details on the blackmail rumours, but Zuma said he had set out this version before — in an affidavit before the Pretoria high court, in the application by Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, then minister of finance, for a declaratory order that Gordhan could not intervene in the relationship between banks and their clients.
Zuma said Hlongwane was an “uncle” to him and they“had a very close historical relationship”.
Hlongwane wanted to “clear it up,” said Zuma — “as Mr Jonas also in his discussions with Mr Hlongwane wanted to know from me directly where these rumours were spreading or coming from”. Initially, they were to meet at the Hyatt but Hlongwane asked for it to be moved somewhere private and the Guptas’ Saxonwold residence was agreed upon as a venue, said Zuma.
“At no stage, since the suggestion was made that the meeting be moved to the Gupta residence, did Mr Jonas either object thereto and/or express any reservations and/or display discomfort to having the meeting there,” states Zuma in the statement.
At the meeting, Zuma said he “mostly played the role of a spectator and more of a mediator”.
At a point, Rajesh Gupta “quickly peered into the lounge… and called me to him to confirm my availability for a meeting to be held the next day”. He did not fully enter or participate in the conversation with Hlongwane or introduce himself, said Zuma. Atul Gupta was overseas and Ajay Gupta was not there, he said.
Zuma “categorically” stated that there were no discussions at the meeting relating to the removal of the minister of finance, nor any offer to become minister of finance or of any money, “nor any threats uttered towards Mr Jonas by anyone”.
Hlongwane agreed: “I deny that Mr Ajay Gupta was present at that meeting or that any member of the Gupta family ever participated in the discussion between ourselves.”He added that “a member of the Gupta family did enter the room briefly at some stage but immediately left”.
In his statement, Hlongwane said that Jonas denied that he had made any blackmailing allegations.
Zuma said: “My observations during the meeting was that both Mr Jonas and Mr Hlongwane ventilated and discussed the rumours of the blackmail allegations, and eventually reached a stage where, although it was not fully resolved, the ‘dust settled’ between them, so to speak.”
He said his assessment of the meeting was that the issue between them was “not entirely resolved, but hanged in the air for further follow-up meetings”. He said he did not know whether the dispute was subsequently resolved.
Zuma said that, after the meeting, he twice bumped into Mr Jonas — once at the Hyatt and once at a parliamentary event. “I can state that, on both these occasions, we had friendly interactions with each other,” he said.