The judicial commission of inquiry into the PIC has heard that former finance minister Malusi Gigaba received a message in late 2017 warning him that removing Dan Matjila as PIC boss would be "catastrophic" and a setback to an unspecified "project".
The commission is investigating allegations of wrongdoing at the PIC, which manages R2.2trn in investments on behalf of public servants.
The contents of the WhatsApp exchange were contained in a submission by Bongani Mathebula, the PIC Company Secretary who was suspended last year and reinstated in March 2019.
During her sworn testimony, Mathebula told the inquiry that Gigaba informed the asset manager's board about the correspondence during a meeting in September 2017. The meeting had been called to discuss "several concerns" swirling around the institution, which manages the pensions of public servants.
The "concerns" included corruption allegations which had surfaced around some executives, including Matjila.
'Dragged' into PIC affairs
Mathebula said that during the meeting, Gigaba voiced concerns about "being dragged into PIC matters" of which he said he had no knowledge. These included being painted as interfering with the internal governance of the asset manager, which he denied.
He informed the board that the had received a WhatsApp message on September 13, 2017 from a Cape Town businessman, which read:
Hi Malusi, Can you call me urgently? My editors have picked up a story on the removal of Dan Matjila as PIC CEO at a special board meeting on Friday. I am not sure if you are aware. This will be catastrophic and will set us back. Please intervene to stop this, since it is not good for you and the project. I have also sent Sifiso a text, I am available to chat anytime...."
According to Mathebula, Gigaba responded to the message, saying:
"I am not on the PIC board chief. I cannot intervene on this, as it is a matter the board has not formally reported to me. My deputy has not told me they have suspended the CEO. I am sure you would understand. I have to respect governance."
'I believe it was Mr Survé'
The following day, on September 14, 2017, then deputy minister of finance and chair of the PIC, Sfiso Buthelezi, released a statement saying that allegations against Matjila were "unfounded, baseless and are causing unnecessary panic".
Mathebula was asked on Wednesday if she knew who the businessman in question was, and she responded: "I believe a name was mentioned, I think it was Mr Iqbal Survé."
Survé is the chairperson of the Independent Media group, which included titles such as The Star, Cape Times and Cape Argus. He is also the executive chairperson of investment holding company Sekunjalo.
Fin24 could not immediately reach Gigaba or Survé for comment on Wednesday.
Survé testified for two days before the inquiry in early April. As Fin24 previously reported, he used the opportunity to sing the praises of companies under the Sekunjalo umbrella, hit out at the white business community and rival media houses, and criticised those he views as his adversaries, including Deputy Finance Minister Mondli Gungubele.
On Wednesday, assistant commissioner Gill Marcus asked the evidence leader to find out if Gigaba could "authenticate the message".
She also asked Mathebula if she knew what the "project" was referred to in the message. She said she had no idea, and the matter was not further discussed during the meeting.
According to Mathebula, the businessman wrote back to Gigaba, telling him that he was trying to help, so that the matter did not embarrass him, his deputy and the government.
It was not clear how the businessman learnt about the board meeting or the agenda he was referring to in the message, as such information was not made public, she said.
Matjila resigned as PIC chief in November 2018, following pressure on him to step down. Gigaba, meanwhile, was removed as finance minister and appointed minister of home affairs in Ramaphosa's first Cabinet in February 2018. He resigned in late 2018.
*Update: This article was updated at 18:10 on April 24 to include a reference to 2017 statement released by then deputy minister of finance and chair of the PIC Sfiso Buthelezi.