‘Punished for snubbing the Guptas’

2016-10-09 06:00
Themba Maseko

Themba Maseko

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Former government spokesperson Themba Maseko has broken his silence on his exit from government, saying it was President Jacob Zuma’s way of punishing him for snubbing the Guptas.

In an interview with City Press this week, Maseko said Zuma instructed late former minister in the presidency Collins Chabane to “redeploy me or terminate my contract” – which came hardly two months after a threatening call from one of the Gupta brothers, who had been desperately lobbying for government advertising.

At the time, government was spending up to R600 million in media platforms and the Guptas had wanted that expenditure to be transferred to their media companies, said Maseko.

Maseko’s allegation forms part of a submission made to a panel supported by lawyers and formed by the

SACC) to look into allegations of state capture and corruption.

Secretary of the “unburdening panel”, Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana, told City Press this week other submissions had been received from Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas, who raised eyebrows when he alleged that the Guptas offered him a Cabinet position. Former ANC MP Vytjie Mentor made a similar allegation.

Maseko said the lobbying started during a meeting at the Guptas’ home in Saxonwold in October 2010, which was followed up by a phone call from an agitated Ajay Gupta in November that year, desperately demanding a meeting ahead of the launch of the Guptas’ New Age newspaper.

Because Maseko was noncommittal owing to a packed diary, Gupta accused him of being uncooperative, adding that he would speak to his superiors in government who would “sort Maseko out”.

That day seemingly came in January 2011.

According to Maseko, Chabane called him for an urgent meeting in his office and told him he had received an instruction from Zuma that he had no choice but to implement.

“He advised me that he had been instructed by the president to redeploy me or terminate my contract,” Maseko said.

“He made a commitment not to throw me to the wolves because he knew I was a committed civil servant who had not done anything wrong. He told me he would make a plan to find another post for me in the public service.”

Maseko said Chabane was “obviously disturbed” when he was told about the inappropriate encounter with the Guptas.

“He asked me to leave it in his hands.”

Meanwhile, to his shock, his imminent exit was leaked to the media, a discovery he made during a tea break during a Cabinet meeting.

Maseko said it was only then that Chabane consulted with the president, and an impromptu announcement had to be made to Cabinet that Maseko had been sacked as Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) CEO and government spokesperson.

Chabane then informed him he would fill the vacant position of director-general in the department of public service and administration, which was at the time being headed by Richard Baloyi.

Maseko said he received a call from Gupta that same afternoon, but he did not answer.

“The purpose of that call remains a mystery to me. It could have been to ask if I had changed my mind after refusing to be influenced, or to remind me about what he had told me.”

In response to Maseko’s allegations, Nazeem Howa, CEO of Oakbay Investments – the holding company for the Gupta family’s businesses – said: “We are bemused by Mr Maseko’s six-year-old allegations, which are totally unfounded.

“It is clearly part of an ongoing, coordinated campaign involving others to continue an already vicious politically driven attack, using the Gupta family as a proxy.

“As a senior government official at the time of the alleged incident, surely Mr Maseko would have followed the accepted regulations and responsibilities that came with his role and reported what amounts to serious allegations to the appropriate responsible officials, including his minister.

“We are keen for Mr Maseko to confirm that this was done at that time, in keeping with the legal responsibilities he had as an official of GCIS.”

Maseko said it was inappropriate for any family to have the arrogance to think they could give instructions to government officials.

His submission to the panel was made three weeks ago and he was among those who were waiting to be interviewed.

Maseko said he would have preferred a formal judicial inquiry with the power to summon people known to have information.

“The panel has no authority to force people [to testify].”

The panel will table a final report to the SACC sitting in November.

The leaders of SACC will have to make a decision about what to do with the information received.

Mpumlwana said he was worried that people still lived in fear in a democracy, as people asked for anonymity before making submissions.

He likened it to the ruthless days of apartheid, when the death squad reigned supreme.

“Unfortunately, even if they were to try and kill me, the information received is protected,” he said.

Zuma’s spokesperson Bongani Ngqulunga said the president had nothing to do with Maseko’s exit at GCIS.

“It is unfortunate that Mr Maseko wants to drag the president into matters he thinks are related to the end of his tenure at GCIS. The appointment of directors-general is delegated to ministers. The president has no knowledge of the allegations that Mr Maseko is making.”

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Read more on:    themba maseko  |  collins chabane  |  jacob zuma  |  mcebisi jonas

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