On Wednesday, the commission of inquiry into state capture will hear evidence from Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene who is expected to reveal details about the events that led to his sacking from former president Jacob Zuma’s Cabinet in 2015.
Nene’s name was first raised in the commission — chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo — during the course of former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas’s testimony in August.
Jonas alleged that during his time as deputy finance minister he attended a clandestine meeting in October 2015 at the Saxonwold residence of the politically connected Gupta family. During the course of the meeting, Gupta patriarch, Ajay, allegedly offered Jonas the position of finance minister and a R600-million bribe in exchange for his co-operation in the family’s business affairs.
Nene was the finance minister at the time. On December 9 2015, he was fired from the position during a Cabinet reshuffle and replaced by Des Van Rooyen, who was parachuted into the job from relative obscurity. Van Rooyen held the position for three days and was succeeded by Pravin Gordhan.
Gordhan is expected to testify before the commission next week.
In former public protector Thuli Madonsela’s ‘State of Capture’ report, Madonsela said it was “worrying” that Nene was removed as finance minister six weeks after Jonas told Nene that he had been allegedly approached by the Guptas.
She wrote it was “equally worrying” that Van Rooyen can be placed through cellphone records around the Saxonwold area on at least seven occasions including on the day before he was announced as finance minister.
In August this year, the Mail & Guardian revealed that investigators for the Zondo commission had been tasked with finding out what exactly Van Rooyen did during his tenure as finance minister. There are indications that it took mere hours for Van Rooyen to feed information to the Guptas.
This week, the Sunday Times newspaper reported that Nene will detail how pressure to approve a R1.6-trillion nuclear deal led to his firing.
It was reported that Nene and Lungisa Fuzile — then treasury director general — were strongly opposed to a 9 600MW nuclear procurement proposal presented by then energy minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson. The deal was to be awarded to Russia’s Rosatom and would have benefited the Gupta family through their company Shiva Uranium, according to the Sunday Times report.
“An angry Zuma then questioned why the treasury had consistently torpedoed big projects that he had sanctioned,” it reads.
According to the article, Nene’s axing — and his subsequent replacement by Van Rooyen — coincided with the night the nuclear deal was approved by Cabinet.
Nene is also expected to shed light on his own ties with the Guptas. On Tuesday, Business Day newspaper reported that Nene had held several meetings with the family during his first term in office, and while he was deputy finance minister.
During these meetings the Gupta brothers allegedly demanded Nene’s intervention in getting them in on the Public Investment Corporation (PIC) deal which funded Iqbal Survé’s takeover of Independent News and Media group.
In a statement released on Tuesday, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) made note of Nene’s alleged relationship with the Guptas.
The statement said what the Business Day report reveals is that throughout Nene’s tenure as finance minister, he was “captured by the Guptas and worked for them”.
The EFF questioned Nene’s refusal to answer questions it had posed to him about his relationship with the Guptas, accusing the minister of not following parliamentary rules and procedures.
“What all these developments reveal is that Nhlanhla Nene is not an honest and respectable minister we all thought he was,” the statement reads. “He is a crook who would do anything to assume a leadership responsibility, even at the expense of principles.”
Speaking to media on Tuesday, EFF leader Julius Malema said his party would approach the courts should Nene “lie” under oath. “He must answer honourably. Otherwise, we will approach the court for perjury,” Malema said.