Johannesburg – President Jacob Zuma appeared to have been “opening doors” for the Gupta family as far back as 2008, former Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi has said.
He said Zuma had set up a meeting between his son Duduzane, a member of the Gupta family, and Equatorial Guinea’s president in October 2008.
"When it happened I was uncomfortable. The only reason I was uncomfortable in 2008 was because the president had just emerged from a huge Schabir Shaik scandal," he told News24.
"Ordinarily I wouldn't have had any suspicion because we didn't know what they were discussing. It is only now that I connect the dots, that I see."
Shaik, Zuma’s former financial advisor, was found guilty of fraud and corruption in June 2005. Former President Thabo Mbeki subsequently sacked Zuma as deputy president. Zuma was then charged with fraud and corruption. In September 2008, he succeeded in a high court bid to have the charges dismissed.
Vavi's comments followed revelations two weeks ago by Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas, former ANC MP Vytjie Mentor, and former GCIS CEO Thabo Maseko that the politically connected family had approached them.
Jonas and Mentor said they were offered Cabinet posts. Maseko said the Guptas tried to get him to channel government advertising spending to their New Age newspaper.
"Suddenly I said it makes sense, it started before 2009, even before he [Zuma] was the president," Vavi said.
Zuma was sworn in as president in May 2009.
Vavi said he and SA Communist Party general secretary Blade Nzimande accompanied Zuma on a trip to Equatorial Guinea in 2008. President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo had invited Zuma to attend the country's independence day celebration.
I did not know who the jet belonged to
The former Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) leader said Zuma had invited him and Nzimande along so they could discuss the "state of our revolution" ahead of the 2009 general elections.
"We only took the opportunity to have this private discussion away from South Africa, away from all the glares of everyone in the country. So we jumped at the opportunity."
Vavi said they flew a private jet, but he did not know who the jet belonged to.
They spent four days in Equatorial Guinea hoping to have discussions with Zuma, but this never happened.
On the last day of the trip, Zuma's son Duduzane and one of the three Gupta brothers, Rajesh, arrived. They had come from visiting Angola and the Central African Republic and went into a meeting with Zuma and Mbasogo, Vavi said.
Zuma was "opening the doors" for the Guptas
"What I found very, very strange, was for the young ones to be prioritised above the leadership of the alliance, who had been asked to come all the way, and when they arrived on the last day of our visit they went straight into the meeting and they have a discussion for hours," said Vavi.
He only raised the matter with Zuma in April 2010.
"I was raising an issue about his good-heartedness, that he had an open door policy with people and he had meetings with people and a lot of the time we can't guarantee that all the people he meets have good intentions. In that context I raised the matter."
He said it seemed Zuma was "opening the doors" for the Guptas.
"It is only now when everyone is saying 'look this is my experience', that I said this is what I witnessed too."