On his first day as finance minister, Des van Rooyen asked then treasury director general Lungisa Fuzile to expedite the “informal” appointment of Malcolm Mabaso, the commission of inquiry into state capture heard on Thursday.
During the second day of his testimony before the commission — chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo — former treasury DG Lungisa Fuzile detailed how Van Rooyen attempted to install Mabaso as one of his advisers at treasury. According to Fuzile, Van Rooyen said Mabaso would not be paid by the department and would “just be around”.
Van Rooyen made this request of Fuzile in a meeting also attended by Mohamed Bobat and Ian Whitley, the two advisers Van Rooyen had parachuted into treasury.
Fuzile’s testimony has focused on the days following Nhlanhla Nene’s dismissal as finance minister in December 2015 and the four-day period Van Rooyen served as his successor.
Van Rooyen was appointed to the position from relative obscurity, but during his testimony Fuzile has challenged the popular characterisation of Van Rooyen as an “ANC backbencher”.
On Wednesday, Fuzile recounted a phone call from the ANC’s head of economic transformation Enoch Godongwana shortly after Nene’s dismissal became public knowledge. During the phone call, Godongwana told Fuzile that he would now have a “Gupta minister” who would arrive to treasury with his own advisers.
In his testimony on Thursday, Fuzile detailed his first interaction with Bobat — outside the Union Buildings in Pretoria where Van Rooyen was set to be sworn in as finance minister. Bobat allegedly introduced himself , telling Fuzile that he would be the new minister’s adviser.
Fuzile said he was “taken aback” by this because he had not signed off on any contract appointing Bobat. As the director general of the department, he was the only person with the authority to do so.
“All of a sudden” Godongwana’s “bizarre” prediction seemed to be true, Fuzile said.
“The minister hadn’t been to the department, but he had already figured out that he needed an adviser. What gap would that adviser be filling?” he added.
The next day, Fuzile said he was called to a meeting at Van Rooyen’s office. There he found Van Rooyen, Bobat, Whitley and Mabaso. Fuzile said he had not known anything about Whitley and Mabaso before the meeting.
Fuzile testified that Van Rooyen introduced Bobat as his chief of staff and Whitley as his adviser, but Bobat corrected him — explaining that it was actually the other way around. Fuzile explained that in treasury an adviser is actually more powerful than a chief of staff.
Van Rooyen wanted him to process access cards for the three men and said Mabaso’s appointment would not be formalised, Fuzile said.
When Fuzile said that he could not allow this to happen, Van Rooyen told him to make it happen, saying: “You are just a DG.”
Fuzile told the commission that he understood that Van Rooyen would “reduce or diminish” him when it suited the minister. On Wednesday, Fuzile explained that a director general in treasury is both the accounting officer of the department and the finance minister’s closest adviser.
A 2016 amaBhungane report detailed the links between some of Van Rooyen’s advisers and the controversial Gupta family.
According to the report, Mabaso was a former business associate of Salim Essa, a long-time business partner to the Guptas.
Mabaso also reportedly had ties to the Duarte family, which Whitley had married into. John Duarte, the former husband of ANC deputy secretary general Jessie Duarte, was the managing director of Premium Security and Cleaning Services where Mabaso was also a director.
Duarte’s son was best man at Mabaso’s wedding, which Duarte also attended.
In 2016, Duarte took the Mail & Guardian to the press ombudsman following the publication of the aforementioned amaBhungane article.According to Duarte, these connections were “damaging” because the ordinary reader — even with the M&G’s warning on the article that the links were indisputable in some cases and circumstantial and minor in others — “would or could conclude that she was in business and could be susceptible to influence to benefit the Gupta family”.
But in September Duarte admitted that Whitley had made a mistake in becoming an adviser to Van Rooyen.
“I in fact asked my son-in-law not to go and work for national treasury because of the context that nobody works for national treasury unless you’ve actually been screened by a particular group of people,” Duarte told eNCA.
Investigators for the Zondo commission have been tasked to discover what exactly Van Rooyen did during his tenure as finance minister.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 Van Rooyen had visited his residence.