Gordhan places Zuma at the centre of state capture

Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan
Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan
Felix Dlangamandla

In Pravin Gordhan’s sworn statement to the judicial commission of inquiry into state capture, former president Jacob Zuma looms large. He might not feature in every anecdote and every incident, but the handiwork of the patron – the controller – of grand capture is to be found writ large on every page.

After Gordhan was reappointed as finance minister in December 2015, the then-president called him and requested him to accede to his friend Dudu Myeni’s request to approve SAA’s expensive deal with Airbus.

When Zuma wanted to advance the interests of his friends, the Guptas, he brokered a meeting at his official residence with Ajay Gupta so that he could canvass the minister on "small business development".

And when Gordhan – and National Treasury – was subjected to an orchestrated campaign of intimidation and harassment and the minister went to see the country’s head of state to discuss the matter, Zuma was disinterested and nonplussed, merely flipping through some notes.

FROM GORDHAN'S STATEMENT: Gordhan details meetings with the Guptas

Gordhan’s testimony, which lasted from Monday morning until Wednesday afternoon, wasn’t about the Guptas or Tom Moyane, Berning Ntlemeza or Mosebenzi Zwane. It was about how Zuma repurposed the state and the ANC, and how he shaped them into his own image: deceptive, dishonest and devious.

When considered alongside that of former minister Barbara Hogan and Lungisa Fuzile, Treasury’s former director general (who commenced his testimony on Wednesday afternoon), Gordhan’s account of events gives South Africans the clearest analysis yet of the anatomy of state capture.

The former finance minister – who has increasingly become the target of an aggressive and frantic EFF – forensically unpacked the role and position of Treasury in government, the responsibilities and function of the finance minister and how these related to the president, Cabinet and the state.

After he laid the foundation and built the framework within which both the minister and Treasury execute their tasks, he proceeded to illustrate how state capture worked. He explained the theoretical approach to grand capture, how appointments to the boards of state-owned enterprises worked and how the infiltration of the Hawks and the NPA neutered law enforcement.

Gordhan, not adverse to changing course during his testimony when he felt the need to, at first seemed reluctant to directly name Zuma as the patron of corruption when asked by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo.

FROM GORDHAN'S STATEMENT: Zuma to Gordhan: 'Can we do what Dudu wants?'

But when pressed about who in the national executive "misled, lied, manipulated and abused" the state in the interests of capture, Gordhan replied: "In the first instance, the president (Zuma). For example, if you look at (his involvement in) the issue of the banks and the relationship with clients (the Guptas)…pushing the nuclear deal…when you allow particular types to be appointed to boards, when you put particular ministers there to be cooperative…looking back…it means there was a scheme at play designed by someone…"

Near the end of Gordhan’s testimony, Zondo tried to close the loop, asking Gordhan about his relationship with Zuma and whether there was anything that could explain why their relationship deteriorated to the extent that Zuma wanted to fire him.

Gordhan detailed their shared history in the struggle, how he was part of a group of activists who received Zuma when he was released from Robben Island in 1974 and how he (Gordhan) helped Zuma escape the country three years later. On a personal level it seems all was fine. But politically it wasn’t.

He explained that there were events that put strain on their relationship: "The Denel Asia deal, the Gupta bank accounts, the nuclear deal, PetroSA, changes to the SAA board, the swop of (Nhlanhla) Nene and myself…each of those would have constituted interference in the project…it would have been distractions and not acceptable to him."

And Treasury, as an institution guarding over government spend and clamping down on corruption, had to be taken out.

"If we accept the hypothesis of what is state capture, then National Treasury was standing in the way by saying: 'Can we test the numbers, can we check the viability, are the correct procedures in place, is there a business case?'" Gordhan said.

FROM GORDHAN'S STATEMENT: Gordhan warns of state capture 'fightback' across government entities

Zondo, who became more and more involved as Gordhan’s testimony unfolded over the three days, regularly referenced the role of the ANC, the party that elected Zuma and made him president.

The deputy chief justice emphasised that the ANC had a popular mandate to govern, and as such, an enormous responsibility towards all South Africans. But where were they during state capture? "When did it realise there was something going on, that there was something wrong? When did they realise that state capture was occurring? And what did they do about it?" he asked.

Gordhan testified during a period when the political tectonic plates are again shifting, with new alliances being formed and old friendships rekindled, where "my enemy’s enemy is my friend", to quote the public enterprises minister.

He dissected the events of 2016, with the assault on Treasury and Zuma’s interference, and 2017, when Treasury’s battlements were finally overrun.

The last three days saw crass attempts at obfuscation and distraction by the EFF. Their efforts amounted to not much more than a sideshow and will be quickly forgotten.

Gordhan’s detailed analysis of corruption during the period of high capture, however, will remain an important historical inflection point.

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