The long-awaited testimony of Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan before the Zondo commission was as much about state capture as it was about addressing fresh allegations levelled against him by his detractors.
Gordhan’s testimony this week was ushered in with controversy after his statement to the commission was leaked to the media, which prompted allegations by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) that Gordhan had changed his evidence to include previously omitted information about his relationship with the Guptas.
In a statement, the EFF claimed Gordhan had asked to postpone his testimony last month after the backlash Nhlanhla Nene faced when it emerged that he had met the Guptas four times between 2010 and 2013. Nene resigned as finance minister less than a week later.
Gordhan was scheduled to give his testimony days after Nene. But the commission’s legal team applied to postpone his appearance because they had received a draft statement from the minister days before he was due to appear.
The EFF claimed that what Gordhan had left out of his draft statement was details of a meeting with businessman Anil Ambani in 2010. Ambani is the chairperson of the India-based Reliance Group, which is involved in telecommunications, power, financial services, infrastructure and media. Ajay Gupta was allegedly also at the meeting.
The EFF’s complaint was that Gordhan had not disclosed this meeting in a 2016 parliamentary response to a question about his relationship with the Guptas.
In his statement to the commission this week, Gordhan prefaced the section dealing with his interactions, saying: “For the record, I have been asked by the commission’s legal team whether I ever met members of the Gupta family.”
Gordhan said he had forgotten about the Ambani meeting, which concerned Reliance’s possible acquisition of MTN. He said this interaction had, in the days leading up to his testimony, been made out to be more meaningful than it actually was.
The Mail & Guardian asked the commission whether Gordhan had been allowed to alter his statement and had received preferential treatment in being granted two postponements, but received no response.
Other than the Ambani meeting, Gordhan’s testimony was preoccupied with allegations that then-president Jacob Zuma had seemingly disregarded due process in his efforts to sideline treasury and push through questionable deals. One of these was the infamous R1.6-trillion nuclear deal in 2011, which Nene spoke about during his testimony.
The EFF staged pickets outside the commission for the three days of Gordhan’s testimony.
In his speech, EFF leader Julius Malema criticised Gordhan, the ANC, President Cyril Ramaphosa, the media and the Zondo commission.
Malema also claimed that Gordhan’s daughter, Anisha, had benefited from state tenders siphoned to her by her father. She was compared with Zuma’s son, Duduzane, who has been implicated in Gupta dealings by witnesses at the commission.
The next day, Gordhan uncharacteristically strayed from his statement to address the allegations concerning his daughter. During his closing remarks Gordhan said Anisha had not amassed millions of rands from state tenders and that none of the directorships she held were in her personal capacity, but on behalf of her employer. Anisha worked for Investec between 2007 and 2017.
Gordhan decried this attack on his family, telling his critics not to choose “vulnerable targets”, but to talk to him directly.
Gordhan said his critics should appear before the commission and make their allegations under oath.
In a statement after Gordhan’s testimony, the EFF said Gordhan had deflected attention away from the party’s claims “to conversations about Investec”.
“The essential point is simple, Pravin Gordhan’s daughter, Anusha [sic] Gordhan, served as a director in companies that were awarded tenders to the value of well over 100 million, and because these companies do not disclose their shareholders certificate, we won’t know who the real shareholder is unless they come out openly and disclose everything”.
The EFF also denied accusations that it was trying to tarnish Gordhan’s name without evidence. On Tuesday, Malema said the EFF had people who had worked with Gordhan and who were preparing their evidence to present to the commission.