Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene has issued a statement apologising to South Africans for having met with the politically connected Gupta family.
On Wednesday, Nene told the commission of inquiry into state capture that he had met with the Guptas four times between 2010 and 2013. He also said that there had been one other meeting in 2014, where Ajay Gupta attempted to extract information from him.
In a statement issued on Friday, the finance minister admitted that the visits may have destroyed public trust in him saying: “These visits do cast a shadow on my conduct as a public office bearer. I deeply regret these lapses and beg your forgiveness.”
The meetings, he claimed in earlier conversations with the media, were “almost like a PR exercise” where the Guptas denied they had business with the government and attempted to promote themselves as good corporate citizens.
His testimony on Wednesday contradicted a statement he made during an interview with eNCA’s Siphamandla Goge — shortly after his dismissal from former president Jacob Zuma’s Cabinet — where he denied having “an engagement” with the family.
“Look, I bumped into them in public gatherings once or twice, but I never had an engagement and I’ve never been asked by them to do anything for them,” Nene said.
The timeline below documents Nene’s knowledge of the Guptas and their interference according to testimony he gave before the commission of inquiry into state capture.
In Friday’s statement, a contrite Nene said: “I was wrong in meeting the Guptas at their residence and not in my office or at least a public place. I say this being mindful of the fact that it is quite common practice, not only in South Africa but globally, for public office bearers to attend gatherings, including dinners, at residences of businesspeople, fellow politicians, and other stakeholders. But context matters. As soon as I became aware of the controversy swirling around the family’s business dealings, I should, subject to there being a legitimate reason for doing so, have met Guptas, at my office accompanied, as is customary, by a Ministry of Finance or National Treasury Official.”
The Economic Freedom Fighters were not immediately mollified.
In a statement in response to a Mail & Guardian report detailing his son Siyabonga’s business dealings with the Public Investment Corporation (PIC) during Nene’s tenure as its chairperson, the red berets pulled no punches.
“As was revealed in the State Capture Commission of Inquiry, Nhlanhla Nene’s activities during his tenure as deputy minister of Finance bordered on corruption. He worked with the Gupta criminal syndicate, hence his many visits to their compound in Saxonwold,” the statement reads.
“The Economic Freedom Fighters notes the report in the Mail & Guardian exposing the first of Minister of Finance Nhlanhla Nene’s shenanigans. Whilst he continues to deny his wrong doing, it is becoming apparent and evident that Nhlanhla Nene is nowhere close to the squeaky clean and corrupt free Minister he was portrayed to be by certain media platforms.”
ECONOMIC FREEDOM FIGHTERS STATEMENT ON THE LATEST REVELATIONS ABOUT NHLANHLA NENE pic.twitter.com/rUnV2hGR4y
— Economic Freedom Fighters (@EFFSouthAfrica) October 5, 2018
The EFF say that despite his denials and claims of ignorance, the M&G report shows Siyabonga benefited from the PIC during his father’s time as PIC board chairperson.
“Nhlanhla Nene’s claiming ignorance of his son’s benefiting is disingenuous and assumes that South Africans are stupid,” the EFF statement read.