Key members of the ANC and others lobbied for the appointment of Siyabonga Gama as the chief executive of Transnet in 2009, former public enterprises minister Barbara Hogan told the commission of inquiry into state capture on Monday.
During her testimony before the commission — chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo — Hogan said she experienced “enormous pressure” to approve the appointment of Gama despite the fact that he was undergoing a disciplinary process for misconduct in his capacity as Transnet’s freight rail chief executive.
Hogan recounted how individuals and organisations decried the exclusion of Gama’s candidacy as evidence that he was being persecuted by the Transnet board.
Sipho Maseko, who is now the chief executive of Telkom, was put forward as the board’s chosen candidate. Gama had been eliminated as a candidate after it emerged that there had been allegations of misconduct against him regarding procurement irregularities. These relate to a R847-million tender in 2007 to supply 50 “like new” diesel locomotives, which was overseen by Gama.
Hogan explained that the Transnet board had resolved to undertake the refurbishment of the 50 locomotives using in-house labour. The hope was that this would create jobs, she said. But Gama signed off on a contract that would outsource the refurbishment.
Gama was found not to have fully complied with the board resolution on the contract and was dismissed after a disciplinary hearing in June 2010.
According to Hogan, former president Jacob Zuma was adamant that Gama be appointed as Maria Ramos’s successor anyway.
Zuma was backed by then Justice Minister Jeff Radebe and then Communications Minister Siphiwe Nyanda. Radebe reportedly said at the time that Gama’s suspension was a “miscarriage of justice”.
A number of other organisations, including the ANC Youth League, the South African Communist Party and the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union were in support of Gama at the time.
In a statement, read out at the commission on Monday, the ANCYL said: “There is evidently a concerted agenda by the predominantly White Board of Directors and external role players to isolate Siyabonga Gama from Transnet and deny him the position of GCEO [group chief executive] of Transnet, despite his credentials.”
The SACP released a similar statement saying: “The current shenanigans at Transnet are a classic illustration of the concerns we have raised as the SACP about the strategic role and developmental focus of state owned enterprises.
“Amongst those concerns have been attempts by a few, often parasitic, element capture these entities for reasons that are contrary to their developmental mandate,” the statement read.
Some of these organisations repeated the sentiment that Gama was being persecuted, just like Zuma had been in the past.
Hogan said trade federation Cosatu never engaged the media on the Gama matter, adding that she briefed then Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi who agreed with her position.
Hogan decried the insinuations that the Transnet board and herself had excluded Gama in an effort to frustrate transformation efforts in the state-owned entity.
“That [Transnet] board, majority of which was black, were very fine people, and yet they were castigated,” she said.
She further said it extremely unfair on Maseko, who — despite being qualified for the job —was treated as an ANC outsider.
“This went on time and time again, this notion that there is an in-house and there is an out-house and the way to pursue your career is to walk a beaten path to Luthuli House and ingratiate yourself to the party,” Hogan said. Maseko eventually withdrew his candidacy.
Hogan explained that she was really offended that she was cast as an “anti-transformation racist”.
“I expected more from my colleagues,” she said. “I saw the lengths then that people would go … to destroy other people … I expected the president to protect me.”
“The president hung me out to dry,” she said.
Hogan was ultimately axed by Zuma in October 2010 and replaced by Malusi Gigaba.
Cabinet eventually approved a list that was submitted by Gigaba for a new Transnet board in December 2010. Two months later, Cabinet approved the appointment of Brian Molefe as the new chief executive of Transnet.
When Molefe was seconded to and then appointed chief executive of Eskom in 2015, Gama became chief executive of Transnet.