The night Nhlanhla Nene was axed as finance minister in December 2015, then director general of treasury Lungisa Fuzile was told he would now have a “Gupta minister”, the commission of inquiry into state capture heard on Wednesday.
Fuzile’s evidence will form a series of testimonies relating to the “revolving door” of ministers at treasury following then president Jacob Zuma’s dismissal of Nene. Fuzile’s testimony will specifically look at the arrival of Nene’s successor, Des van Rooyen, at treasury.
During his testimony before commission — chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo — Fuzile recounted how he received a “bewildering” phone call from the ANC’s head of economic transformation Enoch Godongwana shortly after Nene’s dismissal became public knowledge.
According to Fuzile, Godongwana said: “You are now going to get a Gupta minister who will arrive with his advisers.” Godongwana allegedly told Fuzile to “watch it” because the new minister would not even know his advisers.
Fuzile told the commission that he was struck by a “sense of bewilderment” upon receiving the phone call, saying, “I was honestly bewildered because appointing a minister is a very serious job,” he said, adding that appointing a finance minister at during the South Africa’s economic conditions at the time was an even bigger task.”
But according to Fuzile “in a matter of hours” he “started to connect the dots”.
“It hit me like a big rock between the eyes,” he added.
Fuzile detailed a conversation he had two days later with then deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas, who recounted details of his conversation with Gupta patriarch, Ajay.
In August, Jonas told the commission about how he attended a clandestine meeting at the Gupta family’s home in Saxonwold in October 2015. At the meeting, he was allegedly offered the position of finance minister and a R600-million bribe in exchange for his co-operation at treasury.
According to Fuzile, Jonas told him that one of the conditions of his elevation to finance minister would be that his first task would be the removal of certain treasury officials, who would be replaced by new advisors. Fuzile, Ismail Momoniat, Kenneth Brown and Andrew Donaldson were all named as having to be replaced.
Jonas would be given new advisers, he allegedly told Fuzile.
“The conversation helped me form a good picture of the modus operandi of appointing ministers and their advisers,” Fuzile said.
Fuzile said once he connected the conversations he had with Godongwana and Jonas, they “just fit like a glove on a hand”.
“I started to see a connection between what the Guptas wanted and what the president of the country wanted,” he said.
When Van Rooyen was appointed finance minister he brought two advisers with him. The advisers — Ian Whitley and Mohamed Bobat — were allegedly handpicked by the Guptas.
Van Rooyen held the position for four days before Zuma rescinded his appointment, following strong political and market reaction to the move. At the time Whitley caused a stir with serious questions raised over how a mid-level banker had been appointed as an adviser to the minister.
Investigators for the Zondo commission have been tasked to discover what exactly Van Rooyen did during his tenure as finance minister.
Whitley’s counterpart, Bobat, had been employed by Gupta-linked Trillian. The Sunday Times had reported at the time that Bobat was the adviser who shared the confidential documents with Trillian chief executive Eric Wood — who would later share the documents with Gupta business associate Salim Essa.
Van Rooyen’s appointment, as well as that of Whitley and Bobat, formed part of the key allegations investigated in former public protector Thuli Madonsela’s ‘State of Capture’ report.
Madonsela’s report noted that it was “worrying” that Van Rooyen could be placed in Saxonwold on at least seven occasions, including on the day before he was announced as minister.
Ajay Gupta denied that Van Rooyen had visited his residence.