‘I’m not happy that me and other taxpayers have to foot Gigaba’s legal bill’, former SAA boss tells Zondo

Former South African Airways chief executive Sizakele Mzimela on Tuesday told the Zondo commission it riled her that taxpayers had to foot the bill for former minister Malusi Gigaba’s legal representatives to cross-examine her at the state capture inquiry.

Mzimela stressed that she paid for lawyers out of her own pocket to help her prepare for the cross-examination on her testimony regarding the pressure that Gigaba, then the public enterprises minister, and his adviser appeared to exert around the carrier’s Mumbai route.

“I think the first time around one is doing one’s duty in coming forward with whatever information you had,” she said.

“But then, Mr Gigaba requests a cross-examination for some of us who have never had to find ourselves in that space, which obviously meant that I would have to also bring in lawyers from my side in order to assist me in educating me [including on] what to expect in a cross-examination. So that’s fine.”

“But what I take issue with is that I am going to have to pay for my lawyers, while Mr Gigaba’s lawyers are paid for by the state. My taxpayer’s money. I take exception to that. I really do.”

Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo asked if Mzimela believed her legal fees should be covered by the state as well, or if she believed that both she and the minister should pay for their own counsel.

I think it is the second, chair,” she replied.

“How many people would be in a position to also be able to engage their lawyers to assist them? And my question is how fair is that his lawyers get paid by the state, which is my tax money, and everybody’s tax money? So I am wondering why is that?  And I do take quite serious exception.”

Gigaba was represented by two counsel on Tuesday.

The cross-examination circled around Mzimela’s concerns about Gigaba’s silence in a meeting in 2011 when Gupta-linked Jet Airways placed undue pressure on the national carrier to cancel its Mumbai route.

Mzimela has told the commission that she was taken aback that the minister said nothing when Jet chairman Naresh Goyal “arrogantly” told SAA it should scrap its Mumbai-Johannesburg route because his company offered a superior service.

Gigaba in June told the commission he saw no reason to intervene in the meeting to cut Goyal short: first, this was not his style and, second, then deputy minister of public enterprises Ben Martins did respond.

But Mzimela said she was surprised that it fell to the deputy minister to intervene. 

“Nobody had informed us that Jet Airways would be at the meeting. That is really odd. Ordinarily, if the ministry was well aware that the discussion was meant to be about Mumbai and then they had external guests that were invited, they are the shareholder of the entity and probably should have communicated that correctly,” she said.

“That did not happen. Instead, we were ambushed effectively.”

Evidence leader Anton Myburgh on Tuesday recalled that Mzimela’s evidence was that, after the meeting, Gigaba’s special adviser Solomon Mahlangu apologised to her and said he had merely been following instructions. 

“His only boss was the minister,” she said, adding that she therefore understood that he had been acting at Gigaba’s behest.

Gigaba has flatly denied that his adviser was following his lead, to the point of telling the commission that when Mahlangu berated Mzimela he did not intervene because he [Mahlangu] was merely expressing his opinion.

The former minister, who held the portfolios of finance, home affairs and public enterprises, has testified before the commission for days at end. In June, his lawyers cross-examined his estranged wife Norma Mngoma on her explosive testimony, which included that the Gupta brothers had served as Gigaba’s unofficial advisers.

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