For years officials from the department of mineral resources were “summoned” by the controversial Gupta family to their home in Cape Town, the commission of inquiry into state capture heard on Wednesday.
During his testimony before the commission — chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo — former mineral resources minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi said, prior to his first mining indaba as the minister in early 2015, then mineral resources director general Thibedi Ramontja told him it was customary for the entire department to be hosted at the Gupta residence in Cape Town during the indaba.
Ramatlhodi was appointed mineral resources minister by then president Jacob Zuma in 2014. Ramatlhodi told Ramontja the department would not be visiting the Gupta home that year.
Ramontja’s name was first raised during the commission by former treasury director general Lungisa Fuzile. Fuzile told the commission that after Nhlanhla Nene was axed as finance minister by Zuma in December 2015, he received a phone call from the ANC’s head of economic transformation Enoch Godongwana, who told him he would now have a “Gupta minister”.
The new minister was ANC backbencher Des van Rooyen.
According to Fuzile, Godongwana also told him to ask Ramontja about what he meant by “Gupta minister”. Ramontja was reportedly pressured into leaving the department shortly after Ramatlhodi was dismissed as mining minister.
Zondo was shocked to hear Ramatlhodi testify that an entire department, including the minister, would be invited to a private residence. Ramatlhodi said this was the “modus operandi” of the Guptas. “The Guptas had the power to summon the president to their home. They would boast about it,” he added.
He continued saying it was public knowledge that former ministers Van Rooyen and Mosebenzi Zwane were “camping out” at the Gupta residence in Saxonwold. Ramatlhodi was replaced as the minister of mineral resources by Zwane in 2015.
The meteoric rise of Zwane to the helm of the mining ministry was swift and his links to the Gupta family, well-documented. Zwane drove the Free State government’s adoption of the controversial Estina dairy project at Vrede in 2012 when he was the agriculture MEC of the province. In October 2012, the Guptas reportedly took him and his gospel choir on an all-expenses-paid Indian tour.
It was Zwane who allegedly helped the Guptas seal the deal in the sale of Glencore’s Optimum coal mine to the Gupta-owned Tegeta.
Ramatlhodi told the commission Zwane did not hide his association with the Guptas while he was in Cabinet, calling him a “Gupta minister”.
Ramatlhodi has previously revealed that former Eskom chief executive Brian Molefe and the utility’s chairperson Ben Ngubane once asked him to suspend Glencore’s mining licences to ensure that Tegeta could take control of Optimum.
Counsel for both Molefe and Ngubane attended the commission on Wednesday.