Former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene has told the State Capture Inquiry that he visited the Guptas eight times during his time in the Treasury portfolio.
In his evidence, Nene stated that he visited the controversial business brothers six times as deputy minister of finance and on two occasions as minister. The meetings took place at the family’s Saxonwold home and at their company’s business offices in Midrand.
He described the visits an "error of judgment" and said he did not want to "antagonise the boss's friends" - referring to former president Jacob Zuma.
Nene had previously failed to disclose the meetings during a media interview. He eventually disclosed them during his earlier appearance at the Commission in 2018, which led to his resignation as finance minister in October 2018. He also relinquished his position as Member of Parliament.
Meetings about accessibility
Evidence leader Advocate Paul Pretorius asked Nene if he was ever blackmailed by the family. He responded: "As far as I know there was no blackmail."
Pretorius also put it to Nene if it was during one of the visits that he was asked to intervene in a dispute between the Guptas and businessman Iqbal Survé. He said the statement was correct, without going into detail about the nature of the dispute.
"I don’t think a visit matters; what matters is what comes out of those meetings," he said, adding that it was in the spirit of being accessible and he felt that it was important to hear them out.
Number of visits concerning
Zondo remarked that the number of visits was of great concern, given the reputation of the family which vigorously lobbied government ministers for contracts with government. Nene acknowledged that with hindsight, perhaps he could have limited his visits.
He told the commission that he later declined further invitations, when negative reports about the family started coming out in media. "You need to draw a line between being accessible and having your accessibility be abused," said Nene.
He testified that the Gupta brothers, who were involved in a number of large-scale government contracts, charmed senior government ministers and were arrogant in some instances.
According to Nene, the Guptas had portrayed themselves as "good corporate citizens" but never sought to influence his authority or offer him any bribes during his interactions with them.
Nene is the first person to have resigned from government based on evidence out of the state capture inquiry. The commission will resume on Friday, with former finance minister Mcebisi Jonas taking the stand.