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Manyi fails to flip the script

NEWS ANALYSIS

Gupta-linked businessperson Mzwanele Manyi this week dared the Zondo commission to broaden its scope to address white monopoly capital — a challenge that had unravelled by the end of his two-day testimony.

He was at pains to persuade the commission that The New Age newspaper was not a malevolent instrument of state capture, but a counteraction to “white-collar corporate capture” and ultimately a victim of it. “It is my contention … that actually there has never been a time in which the state has not been captured,” he said. This kind of capture, which predated the Gupta empire, undermined black business and the collapse of The New Age was evidence of it, he argued.

Manyi said white-collar corporate capture colluded against The New Age in two ways: the treasury had unfairly targeted the newspaper after it had exposed alleged corruption in the yet-to-be-implemented government payroll system, the Integrated Financial Management System; and a “cabal” of media companies had captured the industry, which was hostile to the alternative perspective of The New Age.

“The private sector people, they hunt like a pack … So when they saw how we report on this … they say, these people are not good, because they are people that are exposing our secrets,” Manyi said.

Manyi said the mainstream media had collaborated with the treasury, and it was during that time that it had created “this monster called the Guptas”. The “frenzy” over the family allowed the media to “entrench a mainstream narrative”, he said.

According to its terms of reference, the commission must investigate “whether there were any irregularities, undue enrichment, corruption and undue influence in the awarding of … government advertising in The New Age newspaper”.

Manyi was appointed the head of the government communication and information system (GCIS) in early 2011. He replaced Themba Maseko, who told the commission in September that, in 2010, he had rebuffed an instruction by Gupta patriarch Ajay that he must spend a large part of GCIS’s budget on advertising in the soon-to-be-launched New Age newspaper.

In August 2017, a company owned by Manyi paid the Gupta-owned firm Oakbay R450-million for the loss-making newspaper and television station ANN7. In July, Manyi applied for the liquidation of The New Age.

Manyi, whose appearance was attended by Black First Land First members, was the commission’s first witness who had been implicated by the evidence already heard.

The acting GCIS head, Phumla Williams, alleged in September that Manyi had sidelined well-established media-buying processes during his time at the GCIS.

It emerged during the testimony of treasury accounting officer Jan Gilliland that the GCIS paid R260-million to Gupta-owned media companies between 2011 and 2018.

Gilliland’s evidence revealed that there was a sharp increase in the amount paid to the Gupta-owned media between 2011 and 2013. The New Age newspaper was launched at the end of 2010.

READ MORE: GCIS paid hundreds of millions to the Guptas

On Monday, Manyi tried to challenge the perception that The New Age “gobbled” government support. He presented figures outlining the distribution of GCIS business to different media companies. According to the figures, in 2011 and 2012, the SABC was paid about R68-million, AD24 (now Naspers) received R17-million, Avusa (now Tiso Blackstar) received R11-million and The New Age received only R8-million.

Vincent Maleka SC, who led Manyi’s evidence, put these figures to the test. He argued big media organisations such as Naspers produced several publications but The New Age was only a single newspaper. City Press only received R199 000 of the R17-million received by Naspers.

But Manyi said Maleka’s analysis was overly mechanical, to which the advocate asked: “What is the point of these figures if you don’t want us to analyse them?”

The following day, Manyi asked that Maleka recuse himself, saying his cross-examination style was “prosecutorial”.

READ MORE: #StateCaptureInquiry: GCIS spending exposes Free State Gupta media spree

Manyi later backtracked after it was clear that he would have to postpone the rest of his testimony to make a formal application to have Maleka recused.

The enmity that welled up between the two — fostered in part by the advocate’s visible frustration with the witness’s evasiveness — all but drowned out any coherent assessment to be made of white monopoly’s hand in state capture.

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Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian. She covers topics relating to labour, corruption and the law.

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