POLITICS

Will Zuma Be More Credible Than Tsotsi Come February?

The parliamentary enquiry into SOE corruption looks likely to quiz President Jacob Zuma in February. Can he prove that Zola Tsotsi was lying?

08/12/2017 06:16 SAST | Updated 08/12/2017 06:16 SAST
Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters

The parliamentary inquiry into corruption at state-owned companies has heard some damning allegations over the past seven weeks, but the real drama is set to unfold early next year, when MPs interrogate several key figures, including President Jacob Zuma.

The probe, which is being conducted by members of the public enterprises portfolio committee, adjourned for the year on Wednesday. If parliament agrees, it will resume on January 16, a week ahead of MPs returning for the 2018 session.

The focus since October 17 this year, the day on which the inquiry first sat, has been Eskom. It is understood the inquiry is hoping to wrap up its investigation into corruption and maladministration at the power utility by mid-February next year. If this is the case, Zuma will likely appear before it during the second week of that month.

Among other key figures it is hoping to hear from over that period are members of the controversial Gupta family, including Ajay Gupta, former South African Airways boss Dudu Myeni, current Deputy Public Enterprises Minister Ben Martins, the president's son, Duduzane Zuma, and Gupta associate Salim Essa.

Arguably the most sensational testimony heard to date -- which appears to link Zuma and Myeni with machinations to remove certain members of the Eskom board -- was delivered last month by the utility's former board chairman Zola Tsotsi.

Tsotsi, who was testifying under oath, shocked MPs when he revealed that in March 2015, Myeni had phoned him and asked him to "avail himself" for an audience with Zuma.

"On or about March 7, 2015, I arrived at the Durban presidential residence, and was met by Dudu Myeni, her son Thalente, and a certain Mr Nick Lennell, who was introduced to me as a lawyer."

Tsotsi said Myeni had told him that financial stress and poor technical performance warranted an inquiry at Eskom.

Further, that three executives -- acting chief executive Tsediso Matona, group executive for group capital Dan Marokane, and group executive for commercial Matshela Koko -- had to be suspended.

Zuma had then then entered the room.

"He requested to know what was up for discussion, whereupon Ms Myeni repeated what she had previously stated. The president then enquired if I knew who the executives are who were to be suspended," Tsotsi said.

The former board chairman also told the inquiry that Tony Gupta had threatened to report him to "Baba" (Zuma) when he declined to help him with certain requests.

"The impression he gave was that he had a very close relationship with Baba, and he could do anything," Tsotsi said.

On November 8, explosive allegations linking Zuma's son Duduzane to the Guptas were made by suspended Eskom legal services head Suzanne Daniels.

She told MPs, also under oath, that Duduzane Zuma was at a meeting in Johannesburg on July 29 this year. Also present were Ajay Gupta and Public Enterprises Minister Ben Martins.

The meeting was about former Eskom boss Brian Molefe's court proceedings. Daniels said Gupta had wanted to know "how far they were".

She had told him that there was to be a meeting with the deputy judge president (DJP) to discuss when the matter would be set down.

"He [Gupta] then said -- it was very difficult to understand him, because he speaks in a very heavy Indian accent, but the gist was -- he will have to talk to someone in the DJP's office, and to make sure that the hearing takes place after December 2017, so that it could be dealt with then."

Ajay Gupta has denied being present at this meeting, claiming he was in India at the time. Martins has also rejected Daniels' claims.

The inquiry, which is being chaired by ANC MP Zukiswa Rantho, favours a velvet-glove approach towards those it wants to hear from, issuing "invitations" to attend.

But it has shown willing to shake an iron fist. On Wednesday this week, MPs unanimously agreed that Martins, who declined to appear in person, should be served a subpoena, compelling him to come before the enquiry.

It is understood that inquiry evidence leader Ntuthuzelo Vanara is currently preparing the subpoena, and that the committee is poised to send out further "invitations" to the Guptas, Myeni, Duduzane Zuma and Essa.

There has been speculation that the inquiry may be closed down by those in the ruling party who are opposed to it, though at this stage such a step appears unlikely.

Quizzed on this, Rantho told HuffPost: "No, no, I'm not under any pressure from anyone. It is said that there are people in my own organisation [who] don't want this inquiry.

"But the ANC has supported this inquiry from the very first day. We were given the go-ahead by the spokesperson of the ANC, Zizi Kodwa, and some NEC members, together with the chief whip of the ANC [Jackson Mthembu]."

The vigour with which MPs from all parties are tackling the state-capture investigation has drawn comment from seasoned journalists covering the inquiry.

"This is the first time I've seen a parliamentary committee act in such a robust way," a colleague was heard to remark.

Several members of the public enterprises portfolio committee have received threats. These include Rantho and DA MP Natasha Mazzone, as well as evidence leader Vanara.

Asked on Thursday what she thought the chances were of Zuma actually appearing before the inquiry, Mazzone told HuffPost: "Absolutely likely."

She said it had to be understood that he would be one of the last people to appear.

"He will be one of the last people [who] will be called... because at the end of the day, the inquiry seeks to paint a picture and join the dots.

"So far, many things link up to the president -- with the president being the pinnacle -- so the ground foundations first have to be laid. I think the chances of the president coming are highly likely, but it will be later on, as we start to close the [Eskom portion of the] investigation," she said.

The inquiry's wider agenda includes investigation of other parastatals, including Transnet and Denel.

If all runs smoothly, it is expected to table a report on the Eskom part of its investigations in the national assembly towards the end of February.