Des van Rooyen did not know the two advisers he brought with him to treasury after he was appointed finance minister in 2015, the commission of inquiry into state capture heard on Friday.
Treasury director general Dondo Mogajane told the commission — chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo — that Van Rooyen was “clearly” unfamiliar with the two men who accompanied him to treasury.
The two men were Ian Whitley and Mohamed Bobat. The pair were allegedly handpicked by the Guptas.
Much of Mogajane’s testimony focused on the first meeting between Van Rooyen and his new colleagues in treasury. Mogajane’s predecessor, Lungisa Fuzile, also recounted this meeting and described the exchange as “awkward” during his testimony on Thursday.
“What I saw suggested … that they did not know each other,” Mogajane said of the relationship between the new minister and his advisers — an impression created by Van Rooyen’s introduction of the two men.
Mogajane was the deputy director general of public finance when Van Rooyen was appointed finance minister. The so-called ANC backbencher was given the job after Nhlanhla Nene was dismissed by then president Jacob Zuma.
The introductory meeting took place in a boardroom at treasury. Fuzile, then the director general, asked Van Rooyen to properly introduce the two men, who were not known to the officials at the meeting.
During his testimony Mogajane now recalled how Van Rooyen introduced Bobat: “This is uh uh umm,” Van Rooyen said. Bobat introduced himself as “Mohamed”. “We call him Mo. He is my chief of staff,” Van Rooyen added.
Mogajane said Bobat waved his finger at Van Rooyen to correct him. Bobat would be his adviser and Whitley would be his chief of staff. Whitley did not say anything.
Mogajane also recalled how Fuzile “slowly” introduced the treasury officials to the three men. “He was taking his time … Looking back he was trying to prove to Mr Van Rooyen: ‘I know my people’,” Mogajane said.
Van Rooyen may not have been “very familiar with the colleagues he was with on the day”, Mogajane said — adding that he had expected Van Rooyen to detail the qualifications of his chief of staff.
Mogajane, who was Pravin Gordhan’s chief of staff during his first tenure as finance minister, told the commission that it is unusual for a minister not to know his advisers. It is a relationship “built over time”, he said.
“A relationship between a chief of staff and a minister is quite important … It is an intimate relationship built on trust,” Mogajane added.
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.
Fuzile told the commission on Wednesday that shortly after Nene’s dismissal became public knowledge, he received a phone call from the ANC’s head of economic transformation Enoch Godongwana.
Godongwana allegedly told Fuzile that he would now have a “Gupta minister” who would arrive to treasury with two advisers chosen for him.