/ 27 April 2021

Gigaba considered Guptas his unofficial advisers, estranged wife tells Zondo

Norma Gigaba Screenshot
In her testimony on Monday night, Nomachule Mngoma described a charged atmosphere at the Gupta family compound, where visitors were required to leave their mobile phones in the foyer and there were often ministerial vehicles in the driveway.

Malusi Gigaba considered the Gupta brothers — Ajay in particular — his unofficial advisers while he served as a cabinet minister, his estranged wife told the Zondo commission on Monday night.

The frequency of his consultations with the family at their Saxonwold home increased after he became minister of public enterprises, and when parliament was in session, these would take place on Monday evenings before Gigaba flew to Cape Town or on Fridays upon his return, Nomachule Mngoma testified.

She described a charged atmosphere at the Gupta family compound, where visitors were required to leave their mobile phones in the foyer and there were often ministerial vehicles in the driveway.

If the visits were work-related, Mngoma said, she would wait in a lounge while her husband met with Ajay Gupta in another room. Gigaba filled her in on their discussions related to Transnet, Eskom and SAA later, she said.

Gigaba told Mngoma that while he liked Eskom’s then chief executive Brian Dames, Gupta did not approve of him and felt he needed to resign. At one point, Gupta said Dames would be replaced in a restructuring process at the power utility. This duly transpired a few months later.

“What I remember is that Ajay didn’t like Brian Dames and then Malusi liked Brian Dames, I think even myself I liked him,” said Mngoma.

She said Gigaba did not understand why Dames did not find favour with the family but they told him that a new CEO would be appointed.

Asked by evidence leader Anton Myburgh at the outset of her late-night evidence, which Gigaba had tried to quell, to spell out who Gigaba considered his de facto advisers, she replied: “It was Ajay and his brothers.”

She recalled that she was first introduced to Ajay Gupta in 2011, and in 2013 accompanied her husband to the Waterkloof air base to welcome guests who had landed there, without official permission, ahead of a Gupta family wedding.

The following day, Gigaba informed her at short notice that they needed to attend the wedding at Sun City. Mngoma added that she was annoyed because she was not prepared. 

“I was shocked because I needed to do my hair and buy some things,” she said.

The couple left the wedding in a similar rush because the media had got wind of the fact that they were there. 

Mngoma said Ajay Gupta contributed to the cost of her wedding —  which cost in the region of four- to five-million rand —  in 2014 and paid for their honeymoon in Dubai. 

She corroborated earlier testimony that her husband collected cash from the Gupta home and told the commission that she accompanied him to Sandton City mall where he mostly spent the money on clothes for himself, but once bought her a Louis Vuitton handbag.

Her testimony suggested that her husband discussed work matters with her extensively and that he grew uncomfortable with doing the family’s bidding but felt trapped. The Guptas’ demands began to interfere with his official diary as a minister but initially he felt obliged to take their calls and to go to Saxonwold when summoned. 

“It came to a point where he did not want to do it because he said they were putting pressure on him … He was really not happy when there were a lot of arguments,” she said, particularly concerning the tenure of Dudu Myeni as chairperson of SAA. Mngma said Gigaba did not approve of Myeni and did not agree with her insistence on scrapping the airline’s Mumbai route and her general meddling.

Mngoma said Gigaba further confided to her: “They want me to run my work the way they want and I want to run DPE [department of public enterprises] the way I want.”

“Most of the calls would make him uncomfortable … afterwards he would talk to me because he was not okay. I think he wanted me to give him support,” she said.

Gigaba gradually began ignoring the family’s instructions but this prompted a stern reminder from Ajay Gupta that he owed his promotion from home affairs to public enterprises to the family’s influence, she said.

“Ajay said Malusi needed to remember why he was appointed as a minister of public enterprises,” she said.

Myeni soon joined in the pressure by complaining to then president Jacob Zuma and threatening that Gigaba would be sent back to home affairs, which happened in 2014. Mngoma said her husband was shocked when Zuma returned him to his old portfolio. She said he had believed it was an idle threat because he had a very good relationship with the then president. The president’s stated reason was that Gigaba needed to strengthen border controls but Gigaba experienced the decision as a punishment. 

It subsequently transpired that he was asked to help members of the Gupta family obtain South African citizenship.

Mngoma baulked at testifying in detail on this subject, saying she could not divulge more than her husband telling her that he was asked to help them, because she was not au fait with the workings of the department.

She took the stand after Zondo dismissed an application from Gigaba that she be barred from testifying. He invoked marital privilege, and pleaded that should the testimony be allowed, it be heard in camera.

Myburgh submitted that this reasoning was spurious.

Mngoma had been due to testify on 13 April but informed the commission that she was not able to do so, prompting it to serve summons days later.

Her lawyer, Advocate Mpati Sofa, said her client wished to cooperate with the commission, but had a number of reservations. These included her safety and that of her children, as well as the fact that she wanted to submit a new affidavit because the one she deposed was drafted with the help of the commission and included information that was not within her direct knowledge.

An exasperated Zondo said he was not prepared to delay her testimony but said she could clarify her position in a supplementary affidavit.

Mngoma addressed him directly at this point, saying the affidavit was completed in a hurry, and she chose not to take a copy home because she felt she was in grave danger following the attempted assassination of a witness in March. 

“My life was in such danger, we did not have time,” she said, adding that she received up to a hundred threatening phone calls a day from withheld numbers.

Zondo replied that she could impart this context in her supplementary affidavit.

Sofa had said Mngoma was unhappy with the fact that the commission summonsed her when she was neither an implicated person nor had proven uncooperative. 

In another development on Monday, the UK foreign secretary Dominic Raab announced that Ajay Gupta and his brothers Atul and Rajesh — along with their known ally, businessman Salim Essa — had been placed on a sanctions list of 22 people who had been involved in “serious international corruption”. 

The list is part of the UK’s “global anti-corruption sanctions regime”, according to its foreign, commonwealth & development office. 

“The UK has, for the first time, imposed asset freezes and travel bans against 22 individuals under the new global anti-corruption sanctions regime, which gives the UK unprecedented power to stop corrupt actors profiting from the UK economy and exploiting our citizens,” said the foreign office. 

Raab said that the Gupta brothers and Essa had been added to the list “for their roles in serious corruption. They were at the heart of a long-running process of corruption in South Africa which caused significant damage to its economy”.