ANC veteran Reverend Frank Chikane told the state capture inquiry that he was shocked when the Guptas told former Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) director general (DG) Themba Maseko that he would be removed from his position if he failed to deliver what they wanted.
Chikane was testifying before inquiry chairperson Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo on Tuesday.
He said he previously chaired a forum which brought together provincial and national DGs. The forum met three times a year to manage government, he said.
Chikane, who is the former DG in former president Thabo Mbeki's office, told Zondo that it was not surprising when Maseko asked to speak to him when, as a director general, he was faced with a challenge.
"He came to me when I had already left government," he said.
"He asked for advice. He had been asked [by former president Jacob Zuma] to go and meet the Guptas and he was worried about the implications. At that point, I think there were already indications there were problems," he said.
'Violating the law, irregular activities'
Chikane said he advised Maseko to follow Zuma's instructions because there was no prima facie evidence that something was going to go wrong.
"I said: 'If you don't go, the president might charge you for countermanding him. So, if I were you, I would go.' So he went.
"When he came back, he said to me that 'Well, now I have been there and they are asking me to do something that is irregular in terms of my portfolio.' At that point I said to him: 'Now you have the right to say no because it is about violating the law, irregular activities,'" Chikane testified.
Chikane said he also told Maseko that he should understand that by saying no, he would lose his job.
He told Zondo that during his time in government, several DGs who had problems or challenged ministers lost their jobs.
Chikane also told the commission that Maseko called him and said the Gupta family had given him an ultimatum. If he did not deliver, he would not be a DG by that Wednesday. He said he received the call from Maseko on a Friday or a Saturday.
"I didn't think it would be so dramatic, to say [the Guptas] would tell you that if you don't do what we want by Wednesday you won't be a director general.
"It hasn't happened like that before. And indeed, by Wednesday he called me and said: 'I am no longer director general of GCIS.'"
"At that point I said: 'Well, Mr Maseko, we now have enough evidence of this corrupt activity. This is the time that we should take it on.'
"I didn't know at that point that they were making plans to moving him to public services."
Chikane said the "pain" about corrupt activities was that it costs "clean" people dearly.
Maseko was removed from GCIS on February 2, 2011 and transferred to the Department of Public Service and Administration.
Maseko testified last year that he was fired shortly after refusing to abide by Zuma's instruction to "help" the Guptas with their new venture, the now-defunct The New Age newspaper, in 2010.
But during his testimony at the inquiry the former president said he could not recall this.
"I don't remember. I normally call DGs to discuss a number of issues. I can't remember making this call," Zuma said at the time.