Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo on Monday deplored the assassination attempt on a witness who told the state capture inquiry last year that Brian Molefe had taken cash from the Gupta family while he was the chief executive of Eskom.
Zondo described the attack on the Transnet security official on Saturday as an “attempted killing” and said it made it plain that those who wished to silence witnesses had no intention to stop.
“I just want to say it is most concerning that some in our society continue to intimidate and attack those who want to assist this commission,” he said.
“It is completely unacceptable that witnesses, whether they have given evidence before the commission or are still going to, are targeted and attacked, and attempts are made on their lives.”
Zondo said he wished to call on the law-enforcement agencies to investigate the attack in Johannesburg at the weekend “expeditiously” and to protect all witnesses who are under threat, those who have given evidence and those who are yet to do so.
“Those who seek to silence those who want to assist the nation …. are determined to continue, and attacks on one person may well deter others whom the commission wishes to hear from,” he added.
The victim was only identified as “Witness 1” when he gave evidence to the commission.
He escaped injury in the ambush in Meredale, where a man on a motorcycle fired several shots at him.
Evidence leader Paul Pretorius said it had been confirmed that it was indeed an assassination attempt. Witness 1 and his colleagues, who testified as Witness 2 and Witness 3, respectively, would remain under protection.
Zondo and Pretorius’s comments were made as lawyers for former minister Malusi Gigaba were about to begin their cross-examination of Witness 3.
The man worked as a bodyguard for Gigaba from April 2013. He told the commission how the then minister of public enterprises collected bags of cash from the Saxonwold home of the Gupta family and spent the money on bespoke suits from a Sandton tailor.
Under questioning from Gigaba’s lawyers, he insisted that he had driven the then minister to the home of the controversial family “six or seven times”.
Zondo said he wished to applaud the courage of those who have risked their safety and that of their families to assist the commission in its task of finding out the extent of the corruption that had played out during state capture.
He said he was grateful that Witness 1 had survived the attack.
Pretorius said the security of Witnesses 1, 2 and 3 was “being attended to” after the assassination attempt. The day’s proceedings had been due to begin with Molefe back on the stand, but this was changed to allow the cross-examination of Witness 3 by legal counsel for Gigaba.
Advocate Richard Solomon, for the former minister, put it to the witness that since there was no record of the visits to Saxonwold, it was a case of his word against Gigaba’s.
Witness 3 said he had recorded the visits in his log book but at some point stopped because Gigaba had instructed him not to do so. Nor was there any entry in Gigaba’s diary, because these visits were not scheduled.
The log book was kept with Witness 1 but when they both sought to access it, for the sake of evidence, it had disappeared, he added.
He was adamant that he had accompanied Gigaba to the Gupta compound and said he remembered the number of times this occurred because on one occasion Gigaba’s wife was there for dinner and on other, separate occasions he saw Molefe, former Eskom chairman Ben Ngubane, former Eskom chief executive Matshela Koko and former Transnet chairwoman Linda Mabaso.
On yet another occasion, he saw the convoy of Jacob Zuma leave the compound, he testified.
Witness 3’s legal representative, Sibusiso Dube, asked why, if he were aware of what happened to Witness 1 at the weekend, he would put his life at risk to fabricate evidence placing the minister in Saxonwold, as Solomon suggested.
“This is a true reflection of what transpired when I was serving him in my duties,” the witness said.
Solomon made much of the fact that Witness 3, in his oral testimony, surmised that the bags of cash Gigaba used to pay for his tailoring had come from the home of the Guptas, but in his written testimony failed to mention the money or indicate where it came from.
“Why were you prepared to make that statement incriminating my client with no evidence whatsoever?” he asked.
The witness responded that he had been clear that he did not see Gigaba receive the cash but that whenever he saw the minister take money from the boot of his car to pay for something, this was invariably a day or two after a visit to Saxonwold.
“I was of the view that he may have found the money from the Guptas because of our frequent visits to the compound,” he said.
Pretorius afterwards said Solomon’s questioning was a regrettably disingenuous attempt to suggest that the witness was being inconsistent in his written and oral evidence.
In questioning by the commission’s legal team on his written submission, the witness mentioned that he had seen a stash of R200 notes in Gigaba’s boot but that he never saw it placed there and could not say with certainty how it came to be there.
“I’m not sure what caused my learned friend’s comment,” Pretorius said.
This article has been updated since it was first published to include Witness 3’s testimony at the Zondo commision on Monday 8 March.