Former president Jacob Zuma has denied that he attempted to strong-arm the Transnet board into appointing Siyabonga Gama as its chief executive.
During the third day of his testimony before the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture, Zuma disputed an allegation made by former public enterprises minister Barbara Hogan that he insisted Gama be appointed to the helm of Transnet, despite Gama being the subject of a disciplinary inquiry.
“I did not put my preference on Gama or whoever,” Zuma said on Wednesday.
Hogan told the commission — chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo — last November that in 2009, following the resignation of Maria Ramos from Transnet, Gama was pushed up a list of candidates to take over as the chief executive of the entity. She alleged that Zuma was “adamant” about Gama’s appointment.
The matter of appointing Ramos’s successor at the end of February 2009 “became the site of an ugly protracted battle between President Zuma and I, in which he thwarted all the legal and legitimate procedures that I took to obtain Cabinet approval for any appointments whatsoever to Transnet, including the appointment of a CEO”, Hogan said.
Gama had already been eliminated as a candidate by the Transnet board after it emerged that there had been allegations of misconduct against him regarding procurement irregularities. These related to a R847-million tender in 2007 to supply 50 “like new” diesel locomotives, which was overseen by Gama, who was Transnet’s freight rail chief executive. There was also a R20-million security tender to a company owned by former minister Siphiwe Nyanda.
Hogan recalled a meeting with Zuma during which the former president allegedly said that no appointment whatsoever was to be made at Transnet until Gama’s disciplinary process was over.
In response to this allegation Zuma said: “I don’t remember myself saying these things … I don’t remember me insisting on this.”
Zuma added that this would fly in the face of appointment processes. “We don’t work like that … I will not accept this, not at all.”
Earlier on Wednesday morning, Zuma was asked questions relating to Hogan’s view that recommendations by the ANC’s deployment committee had “damaging consequences” for the country’s state-owned entities.
Hogan questioned the usefulness of the committee. “It cannot be the closeness to, or membership of, the ANC, or any of its alliance structures (or factions within these structures), that should be the determining factors in the selection of candidates for senior positions,” she said in her statement to the commission.
She went on to suggest that the now infamous ANC’s 2007 national conference in Polokwane, during which Zuma was elected the president of the party, was “divisive” — resulting in “factional battles in the ANC” which “only served to entrench nepotism and patronage within the ranks” of the party.
Speaking on Wednesday, Zuma was reluctant to debate Hogan’s views of the deployment committee. But he did contest that factionalism would be a determining factor when it comes to the recommendations made by the committee.
“People are not appointed on the basis of that [factionalism] … You can’t say that the whole NEC [national executive committee] is a faction and therefore it has appointed its faction,” Zuma said.
Zuma also disputed Hogan’s view that the Polokwane conference was at the centre of the factionalism within the governing party. “For an example she quotes a particular conference [Polokwane] and what happened thereafter. Now that is not true,” he said.
He also challenged Hogan on the usefulness of the deployment committee, saying the elected party must ensure that its policies are implemented by government.
“The party can’t just allow a situation where you take anyone that you have no knowledge of … I don’t understand the logic. It may her own view because of certain cases that she is aware of,” Zuma added.
But the former president emphasised, “It’s not going to be: Which friend do we take?”