When former SAA chairperson Dudu Myeni finally took the stand on Tuesday evening she accused the Zondo commission of being ever ready to impugn former president Jacob Zuma. Myeni appeared before the commission after it resolved to lay criminal charges against her for earlier flouting a summons to testify.
Myeni appeared somewhat chastened and agreed to answer questions she had refused to take at her last appearance for fear of incriminating herself.
She said her failure to appear in the morning, which had prompted Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo to instruct that a complaint be laid against her in terms of the Commissions Act for breach of summons, had been a misunderstanding.
But Myeni soon became irritated when it was put to her that she had urgently called SAA legal adviser Nick Linell to fly to Pretoria to meet Zuma in March 2015, because the then president was unhappy with what was transpiring at Eskom and wanted to make changes at the power utility.
But, on Linell’s evidence, Zuma did not arrive at this meeting on 6 March. He was then called to a meeting at the president’s residence in Durban two days later.
At this second meeting, Myeni informed him that Zuma was going to recommend an investigation and the suspension of four senior executives, Zondo said, still quoting from Linell’s evidence to the commission.
“This commission loves Mr Zuma, it really adores Mr Zuma, even on matters that had nothing to with him it drags his name into that matter,” Myeni snapped.
Zondo replied that the commission did not conjure up evidence, but dealt with what witnesses offered.
Myeni conceded that she had met Linell and, days later, facilitated a meeting with the then Eskom chief executive, Zola Tsotsi, at Zuma’s home in Durban but she was unable to account for what had happened in either meeting, saying she had kept no minutes.
She was adamant that she would never have interfered in the affairs of another state-owned enterprise. She said Tsotsi had sought a meeting with her, first to discuss how to go about hiring a legal adviser for Eskom, and second, to secure an audience with Zuma. She then facilitated the meeting in her capacity as the then chairperson of the president’s eponymous foundation, because she would be meeting with Zuma on that day in any event.
“I had no interest, I do not have any interest even today, we hear about the looting at Eskom today, I had no interest in ordering the suspension of anyone,” she told the commission.
The meeting is of keen interest to the state capture inquiry because it led to the suspension of Eskom chief executive Tshediso Matona, chief financial officer Tsholofelo Molefe, group head of capital Dan Marokane and Matshela Koko, who at the time was head of technology. This paved the way for the appointment of executives who were seen as amenable to making decisions that would further the business interests of the Gupta brothers.
Zondo said Myeni’s denial of the evidence of Linell and Tsotsi, who largely concurred with each other, coupled with her inability to remember what was discussed at the meeting, created difficulty for him because he was obliged to reach a conclusion in his eventual report.
“They both said you were not only part of the meeting but, playing the role of the chairperson, you were central in the whole discussion,” he said, adding that the two men had not known each other previously.
It therefore seemed strange that they, and in particular Linell with whom Myeni had enjoyed a relationship of trust, would conspire to implicate her.
“Why would he turn against you and falsely implicate you as having played a very active role in the meeting?” asked Zondo.
Myeni replied: “Honestly, chairperson, I am lost.”
She said she had routinely been made a scapegoat, including for wrongdoing at SAA, and believed it was because of her relationship with Zuma.
“I presided in a board at SAA … why would I be the only one charged for SAA’s issues and maladministration and taken to court when not once has the CEO been pointed out before this commission? Not once. One simple reason, I am associated with the former president Jacob G Zuma through his foundation.”
She cast the conflicting versions of the two other witnesses as “a sensationalisation of Mr Zuma’s involvement or my involvement” and said it was plain that there were people who sought to mislead the commission.
The commission adjourned after Zondo told Myeni and her lawyer, Nqabayethu Buthelezi, that he would entertain written submissions until June 15 if they could in any way assist him as to what had happened at the meetings in question.
Myeni last week asked the commission to postpone her testimony. She received no response to this request but nonetheless failed to appear, evidence leader Kate Hofmeyr said earlier in the day. When Buthelezi contacted Myeni, at the commission’s insistence, he reported that she was en route to a family gathering in Port Shepstone.
Hofmeyr argued that this was further proof of her defiance, because a witness who seeks a postponement should present themselves to be ready to testify should the request be denied.
She said Myeni had instead given herself leave of absence from the commission. Similarly, she said, Myeni had in recent weeks failed to respond to a raft of documents relevant to her testimony that the commission’s investigating team had sent to her.
Zondo said he would instruct the commission to lay a criminal charge for breach of summons, and instructed Buthelezi to bring his client to testify virtually in the afternoon. Her questioning was confined to the narrow issue of the meeting on Eskom, but she still faces questions on SAA.
Myeni already faces one criminal charge brought by the commission for revealing the identity of a secret witness in November. Hofmeyr informed the commission that in this instance, it took the police months to send her a warning note, and it took members of the commission days of driving around to wrest that information from the police.
The commission has laid criminal charges against Zuma for breaching summons in November last year, and again in January and February this year. In that case, the docket was handed to the Hawks and the matter is now awaiting a decision from the National Prosecuting Authority.
Zuma also risks a prison sentence for contempt of a constitutional court order handed down in January, compelling him to respect any summons to appear before the commission and not to abuse the privilege against self-incrimination in the event that he took the stand.
Hofmeyr quoted from that court ruling on Tuesday, saying the apex court had made it plain that a witness was obliged to indicate how answering a particular question could violate the privilege against self-incrimination and specify the crime in question.
She said the commission’s legal team had, with this in mind, worked through the transcript of Myeni’s earlier appearance and notified her lawyers that “the privilege was abused on a number of occasions”.