‘Dr Dan’ put under pressure

 

 

Embattled former Public Investment Corporation (PIC) chief executive Daniel “Dr Dan” Matjila has for the past two weeks been in the hot seat at the inquiry probing alleged impropriety and the failures of governance at the corporation.

More than 70 witnesses have appeared before the commission, giving evidence on how the state asset manager, which manages R2-trillion in funds, mostly from the Government Employees Pension Fund (GEPF) and the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) became involved in controversial transactions with companies including VBS Mutual Bank, Total SA and three companies linked to businessman Iqbal Survé — Ayo Technology Solutions, Independent Media and Sagarmatha.

Matjila, who stepped down in December 2018, has been presented as an authoritarian figure. For example, a senior market analyst at the PIC, Tshifhango Ndadza, told the commission in May that “Dr Dan did not lead, he ruled over the PIC”.

The Dr Dan character, however, does not fit the stereotype of a dictatorial leader who ruled with an iron fist, undermined staff and unilaterally signed off on investments connected to his friends. And, at a height ofabout 1.65m, he is not physically imposing.

A former mathematics lecturer at the University of the North West, Matjila worked himself up the ranks of the PIC after joining the corporation in 2003.


He became the chief executive in 2014 after the abrupt departure of Elias Masilela amid allegations of political interference — something that Matjila says he also faced as chief executive.

With four members of his family in the audience and flanked by his legal team, headed by advocate Alex Roelofze, Matjila calmly painted a picture of himself as a prudent man who had pulled himself up by his bootstraps. From earning R67.50 a week as an apprentice in the 1980s, he went on to earn millions — gifting himself with a Maserati for his 53rd birthday — as the leader of Africa’s largest state asset manager.

In his 222-page statement, Matjila addresses the allegations levelled against his leadership. The overriding theme of his testimony has been how he faced immense political pressure from senior politicians, not only from the governing ANC, but across political parties.

According to Matjila, he has had to swat away numerous politicians’ requests for the PIC to fund their preferred companies:“Managing the expectations of politicians and people of influence is a fine line that I continually had to negotiate — a tightrope if you will,” he said.

Despite his cries about the heavy burden that political pressure put on the day-to-day running of the PIC, Matjila testified on Tuesday that he saw nothing wrong with meeting politicians at their homes and forwarding their requests to businesspeople funded by the PIC.

Seemingly overcome by the wisdom of hindsight, Matjila conceded that his successor should be more careful in forwarding requests from politicians in order to “protect the integrity” of the PIC, adding that the company should devise a policy that would regulate meetings between the organisation’s chief executive and politically exposed persons.

Matjila shrugged off suggestions by evidence leader advocate Jannie Lubbe that he requested PIC beneficiaries to fund various projects, saying “they could have refused” because they were not instructions from him.

No reason was given for why he did not implement these suggestions during his tenure as chief executive.

He denied allegations of being a puppet master and sought to create a narrative of having to dodge political pressure to use PIC funds to invest in certain companies or fund different projects.

Avoiding taking responsibility for the failures of the PIC to manage its funds properly and for allegedly spearheading a culture of “fear and intimidation”, as alleged by assistant portfolio manager Victor Seanie in evidence to the commission, Matjila testified that he was either unaware of the issues faced by the PIC or that other senior executives at the company were to blame.

Grilled by the PIC inquiry’s commissioners about why he had accepted a meeting with former intelligence minister David Mahlobo at OR Tambo International Airport — where he was introduced to two women who needed assistance for their ailing business venture — Matjila said he had forwarded the request on to Lawrence Mulaudzi, whose businesses had received more than R3-billion in PIC funding.

Cabinet fever: David Mahlobo, a former intelligence minister, was said to have put political demands on Matjila.

Matjila said he did not deem this unethical. “I still believe that I didn’t put pressure on anyone,” he said.

Emails to PIC staff, circulated by the anonymous whistle-blower “James Nogu” in September 2017, claimed Matjila used his position to influence the PIC to inject R21-million into a company linked to Pretty Louw, a woman with whom he had had a romantic relationship.

A 2018 report by Geoff Budlender SC showed that, although there was no evidence of a romantic relationship between Matjila and Louw, he did succumb to political pressure from Mahlobo on her behalf.

The commission resumes on July 22 with Matjila expected to continue with his testimony.

Thando Maeko is an Adamela Trust business reporter at the Mail & Guardian

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Thando Maeko
Thando Maeko is an Adamela Trust business reporter at the Mail & Guardian

Related stories

Advertising

Subscribers only

Mahikeng compounds its mess

The ailing town that wasted R2-billion appoints a municipal manager rated ‘basic’, the lowest level

No mercy for teachers who are found guilty of misconduct

New regulations give direction on what sanctions should be imposed on disgraceful teachers, including lifetime bans for serious offences

More top stories

Resuscitate the public broadcaster

The SABC is simply too important to South Africa’s democracy for it to be gutted: we cannot allow it to die

Climate change threatens survival of endemic species the most

If Earth warms by 3°C, a third of species living on land and about half of endemic marine species will become extinct

Anger as Ace alters step-aside rules

Outraged provincial secretaries called for a meeting with Luthuli House after the ANC secretary general broadened the NEC’s step-aside resolution

Food delivery drivers seek better employee rights

A group of South African Uber drivers plan to go to court to seek employee rights including compensation for overtime and holiday pay, hoping for a similar victory to that of British drivers in March
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…