Former Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) head Mzwanele Manyi asked that a member of the Zondo commission’s legal team recuse himself on Tuesday.
Manyi was expected to conclude his evidence on Tuesday, but before proceedings could get underway, he accused evidence leader Vincent Maleka SC of treating him unfairly the previous day, asking that the advocate recuse himself.
Manyi later backtracked, saying that he did not want to frustrate the work of the commission.
Manyi told the commission — chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo — that he had written a letter pointing out that Maleka may be conflicted as he had previously been involved in legal matters against him. Manyi called Maleka’s cross-examination of him “prosecutorial”.
On Monday, Manyi argued that The New Age (TNA) had not received nearly as much money from GCIS as it has been made out in testimonies provided by previous witnesses.
In August 2017, a company owned by Manyi forked out R450-million to buy TNA Media and ANN7 from Gupta-owned firm Oakbay. In July, Manyi applied for the liquidation of Afro Voice, formerly The New Age newspaper.
In September, treasury accounting officer Jan Gilliland gave evidence showing that GCIS paid R260-million to Gupta-owned media companies between 2011 and 2018.
Gilliland told the commission that after tracking and tracing amounts paid to the two companies through treasury’s Basic Accounting System (BAS), he found that the amount was paid to a number of accounts under some variation of the names Infinity Media and TNA Media. The BAS is a database in which government transactions are recorded.
Around R12-million was transferred to Infinity Media and R248-million to TNA Media.
Gilliland found that payments were made to 11 separate accounts under the names of the two companies.The evidence demonstrated there was a sharp increase in the amount paid to the Gupta-owned media entities between 2011 and 2013.
In 2011, R7-million was paid to these companies and in 2013, they received R30-million from GCIS.
The New Age newspaper was launched at the end of 2010 and ANN7, which was primarily controlled by Infinity Media Networks, was launched in 2013.
On Monday, Manyi presented a number of figures demonstrating the distribution of GCIS business with different media companies. According to the figures, in 2011 and 2012 the SABC was paid about R68-million by GCIS, AD24 (now Naspers) received R17-million, Avusa (now Tiso Blackstar) got R11-million, while TNA Media received only R8-million. He said TNA only received 4.5% of GCIS. He added that South Africa’s top media companies had captured government.
Manyi said the impression that TNA was “gobbling” government money is incorrect.
But Maleka put the figures provided by Manyi to the test, arguing that big media organisations like Naspers produce a number of publications, while TNA only produced one.
Pointing to the figures, Maleka indicated that City Press newspaper only received R199 000 of the R17-million received by Naspers.
Manyi argued that this is a bad example because City Press is a weekly newspaper, while The New Age was a daily publication. Maleka demonstrated in turn that The Daily Sun also received less money than The New Age.
Manyi accused Maleka of being overly mechanical in his analysis, to which the advocate asked: “What is the point of these figures if you don’t want us to analyse them?”
On Tuesday, Manyi said no other witnesses appearing before the commission have had their evidence tested in this way. He added that Maleka’s “hostile” posture towards him would deter other witnesses from coming forward.
Zondo emphasised he wants all witnesses to feel that they have been treated fairly. That does not necessarily mean that they will always feel comfortable, he said. When the legal team asks questions, they are free to ask questions even if they are considered “difficult” in order to reveal the truth, Zondo added.
Maleka assured the commission that he is guided by professional ethics. But Manyi was unsatisfied with Maleka’s response, asking that he recuse himself.
Zondo explained that an application for recusal would be more complicated and that Manyi’s evidence would have to be postponed to allow him to prepare the application.
Manyi suggested that another member of the legal team simply take over from Maleka. Zondo agreed that, at a practical level, it may be better to forgo the application for recusal. But Maleka said this professional integrity had been questioned by Manyi and asked that he be given an opportunity to formally respond to this.
Proceedings were adjourned to allow the commission’s legal team to consult with its head, Paul Pretorius SC. After the adjournment, Pretorius announced that Manyi had changed his position on the recusal application.
Manyi confirmed this, saying that he does not want to frustrate the work of the commission.