Former president Jacob Zuma’s relationship with the controversial Gupta family fractured the ANC national executive committee (NEC), former minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi told the commission of inquiry into state capture on Wednesday.
During his testimony before the commission — chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo — Ramatlhodi detailed how the NEC was paralysed by factionalism, fostered by the “unrelenting” defence of Zuma.
Ramatlhodi told the commission that one faction had the upper hand because of Zuma’s power within the NEC. The “imbalance” of power enabled the former president to “disregard the flow of debate … and arrive at his own conclusion”.
This “season of madness” as Ramatlhodi described it, only really began after the ANC elective conference at Mangaung in 2012, where Zuma was re-elected for a second term as the party’s president.
Zondo pushed Ramatlhodi on how the governing party addressed Zuma’s friendship with the Guptas during this time. Zondo raised the party’s intervention in state capture allegations during the appearance of ANC national chairperson Gwede Mantashe on Tuesday.
Ramatlhodi told the commission on Wednesday that members of the NEC had “lost our tongues”, saying that the consultative process of committee meetings had been undermined.
He used the example of the 2015 ANC KwaZulu-Natal provincial elective conference, which saw Senzo Mchunu ousted as chairperson. Ramatlhodi told the commission that Zuma forced the conference to be brought forward, despite this not being the position of most within the NEC.
Mchunu has been linked to an ANC faction which had sided with Cyril Ramaphosa in his campaign to succeed Zuma as ANC president.
“The faction can punish you badly … that is what the faction does,” Ramatlhodi said when asked why so many stopped speaking out against Zuma’s decisions.
Ramatlhodi said it took the 2017 national elective conference to change the balance of power.
“A faction grows like a tree, it has roots. So you have to uproot it,” he said, adding that the factionalism within the NEC had been fuelled by a system of patronage which started at the top. “We have removed the top,” Ramatlhodi said.
Ramatlhodi said at the beginning of 2018, faced with demands for him to step down, the former president asked: “What have I done?”
The NEC responded by telling Zuma he had “auctioned executive authority” to the Guptas, Ramatlhodi explained. He added that the NEC endorsed the decision that Zuma must leave before he was able to do any more damage.
On Tuesday, during his testimony before the commission, Mantashe revealed that one of the “issues that divided us [the ANC] greatly”, was the demand that Zuma resign.
Mantashe told the commission “things began to fall apart when this issue of state capture began to manifest”. Zondo asked Mantashe if there was ever a period in which the ANC had adopted a strong view that a significant section of the party may be influenced by the Gupta family.
Mantashe referenced a 2017 diagnostic report in which he warned ANC leaders not to defend the alleged state capture by the Gupta family.
In the report, Mantashe said some ANC and government leaders remained on the defensive about the family’s influence despite investigations by former public protector Thuli Madonsela and the South African Council of Churches. “Serious allegations were made against a number of the leaders of the ANC,” the report said.
“Instead of dealing with the reality facing the movement … a narrative was developed that linked any discomfort with the influence of the Gupta family to the regime change agenda.”
At the end of Mantashe’s testimony, Zondo said the work of the commission cannot be complete without the governing party giving evidence about what it did to deal with the issue of state capture. The people of South Africa want to know what the ANC tried to do, Zondo added.