Former president Jacob Zuma could face his biggest hurdle at the judicial commission of inquiry into allegations of state capture thus far when he is faced with questions relating to the evidence of former public enterprises minister Barbara Hogan.
On Tuesday afternoon Zuma’s counsel, Muzi Sikhakhane SC, asked for an early adjournment of proceedings, presumably because his client was tired after a long day of questioning.
Sikhakhane’s intervention cut short questions by Paul Pretorius SC, head of the commission’s legal team, relating to Hogan’s testimony. Pretorius agreed the day had been “strenuous”.
It had been a long day: The second day of Zuma’s highly-anticipated appearance before the commission — chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo — was punctuated by a heated back-and-forth between Pretorius and the former president’s legal team.
Thabani Masuku SC, acting on Zuma’s behalf, objected to what he regarded as the commission’s cross-examination of his client. He further objected to Zuma being asked to recall events he was not party to.
Zuma was being questioned on the evidence of former Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) head Themba Maseko, who alleged that the former president had asked him to assist the controversial Gupta family.
According to Maseko, Zuma phoned him when he was driving out of his parking lot on his way to meet Gupta patriarch, Ajay, at his Saxonwold home. Maseko said Zuma told him that the Guptas wanted to meet with him and that they needed his help.
Once he arrived at the Gupta home, Maseko alleged that Gupta demanded that Maseko allocate government’s entire R600-million media buying budget on advertising in the soon-to-be-launched New Age newspaper.
He also told the commission that in November of 2010 Gupta called him while he was driving to the North West province for a weekend getaway. According to Maseko, Gupta said that his failure to cooperate would be reported to his seniors to “sort him out”.
On Monday, Zuma said he could not recall the phone call Maseko alleged to have received.
The first part of the second day of his testimony saw Zuma distancing himself from Maseko’s removal from GCIS. He told the commission that he had no direct role in shifting Maseko from the helm of GCIS to the department of public service and administration.
Zuma said he could not remember exactly how Maseko was removed, saying there was a “bit of shifting around of DGs [directors general]” and it would have been discussed more between former minister in the presidency Collins Chabane and the minister of public service and administration at the time.
Chabane died in a car accident in 2015.
Following Masuku’s objection to the commission’s line of questioning on Tuesday, Zondo had a lengthy consultation with Zuma’s legal team in his chambers.
Zondo described the discussion as “constructive and fruitful” and resolved to “try and be more ready to intervene in case I think there is unfairness in any question”.
“So we are going to proceed and Mr Zuma’s counsel has indicated that they will rarely raise an objection unless it is quite serious … So we will proceed on that basis,” the deputy chief justice said.
Zuma was also questioned on the evidence presented before the commission by former ANC MP Vytjie Mentor. But the former president stuck to denying any knowledge of Mentor’s alleged 2010 encounter with the Guptas.
Last August, Mentor told the commission that she was whisked away to the Gupta family’s home on a trip from Cape Town to Johannesburg that was planned by Zuma’s aide Lakela Kaunda. Mentor told the commission that she was under the impression that she would be meeting with the then president when she got to Johannesburg.
Zuma disputed Mentor’s allegation that he emerged from a room in the Gupta family’s Saxonwold residence to comfort her after she had been offered a ministerial position by Gupta patriarch, Ajay.
“I had no interaction with this witness. Nothing,” he said.
Both Maseko and Mentor’s evidence is relatively easy for Zuma to dispute: Maseko’s testimony does not put the former president at the damning meeting with the Guptas and Mentor buckled under cross-examination.
Hogan’s evidence, however, will not be as easy to explain away.
During her testimony in November last year, Hogan alleged that Zuma interfered in the appointment of senior executives to state-owned entities.
She alleged that Zuma attempted to strong-arm the Transnet board into appointing Siyabonga Gama as its chief executive in 2009 and that he tried to “install” Jacob Maroga as the chief executive of Eskom in the same year.
As Hogan is a former member of Zuma’s Cabinet, it will undoubtedly much harder for the former president to distance himself from her testimony as they would have met in their official capacities.
To say that he cannot recall official meetings with ministers about the leadership of crucial state-owned entities would be a smudge on his authority.
This means Zuma might just have to give his own versions of his alleged encounters with Hogan — a prospect which could leave the former president exposed.