Former minister of sports and recreation Fikile Mbalula told the commission of inquiry into state capture on Friday that he froze when Ajay Gupta called him to congratulate him on his appointment as a minister.
He had previously not been aware of it.
At an ANC NEC meeting of August 2011 Mbalula told the attendees – which he said included the party’s top six leadership at the time and over 80 members of the structure – that he had been advised by one of the Gupta brothers, Ajay, that he would be promoted from deputy minister of police to minister of sports and recreation, a promotion that indeed occurred in 2010.
Then state president Jacob Zuma at the time had Kgalema Motlanthe as his deputy in the ANC, while Gwede Mantashe was ANC secretary-general with Jessie Duarte as his deputy, Baleka Mbete as national chairperson and Matthews Phosa the treasurer.
“The top six was there,” Mbalula said.
Former finance minister Trevor Manuel told the commission of inquiry into state capture in February that “a tense discussion about the influence of the Guptas” triggered Mbalula’s “emotional outburst” at the ANC NEC meeting about his interaction with one of the controversial Gupta brothers.
Former South African National Defence Force (SANDF) chief General Siphiwe Nyanda, who has served in the ANC NEC, also told the commission of inquiry into state capture in February that in his view Mbalula made the declaration about his interaction with the Guptas because he had been upset.
Mbalula told the commission on Friday that Manuel and Nyanda were members of the ANC NEC in 2011 and that they were both present at the meeting in question.
The former minister confirmed that what Nyanda has said before the commission had been correct and that the only incorrect aspect of Manuel’s testimony was that it was not Atul Gupta who had called him.
“Whether I cried or not … I was emotional,” Mbalula told the commission.
Mbalula said he felt he had to reveal his interaction with Gupta at the ANC NEC meeting because the family’s influence on party members, ministers and, in particular, Zuma were “all over the place”.
“I didn’t know I was going to be a minister of what,” Mbalula told the commission, adding that he had had a discussion with Zuma about his unhappiness in the ministry of police as he served as deputy minister in that portfolio at the time and that Zuma had asked him to be patient as “changes were coming”. Then Ajay Gupta called him to congratulate him on his appointment as minister of sports and recreation.
Mbalula said he made the revelation at the meeting so that the NEC would address the “big problem” of the Guptas’ influence which would land the governing party in “a big crisis”.
He said the Guptas enjoyed powers that even ANC members did not enjoy.
Mbalula said the NEC, however, never discussed his revelation.
“I [froze], I was taken aback,” Mbalula said of his reaction when Ajay Gupta called him.
A few days after the call, he was informed of his appointment as minister, he said.
“I didn’t say thank you because I can’t thank him [Ajay Gupta],” Mbalula said, explaining that he simply exclaimed in surprise.
The chairperson of the commission, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, said Gupta had declared in his affidavit to the inquiry that he had simply read media articles which tipped him off that Mbalula would be due for a promotion and so wanted to congratulate him. When he did this, he, Ajay Gupta, claimed he did not mention the portfolio in which Mbalula would serve as minister.
Mbalula said following his revelation at the ANC NEC – which was reported on in the media – different meetings were held. One was at the Guptas’ Sahara offices and another at the family’s compound, where Ajay Gupta complained about the former minister’s disclosure.
“They [the Guptas] didn’t like it,” Mbalula told the commission, adding that the controversial family made an allegation reported in the family’s now-defunct New Age newspaper that he had paid for someone – Julius Malema – to be at the Olympics, a matter which he, Mbalula, took up with the press ombudsman, who ruled in his favour.
Mbalula said he felt it was important to raise his interaction with Gupta at the NEC meeting because “it ate me” and that members of the structure were only gossiping about the family and not addressing what he saw as a danger.
“If I raised it based on rumours [it would have been a generalisation],” Mbalula said.
He said he had no malicious intent when making the revelation at the ANC NEC meeting but was guided by his “political conscience”.
“Many people were bowing and looking down … it became quiet, people were shrinking in their chairs and others came [afterwards] to pat me in the back and said, ‘you are brave man,'” Mbalula said of reactions after the meeting.
He added that one NEC member rubbished his claim, adding that his revelation was never addressed and that no one “seconded” him.
“But I understood, because when you are a cabinet minister you owe your plate to the president so you can’t stand up against the president because you might be reshuffled,” Mbalula said, adding that “we shouldn’t owe our being to the person who appoints us”.
He said he thought that because of his youth at the time he “had the courage to stand up” because he only cared about addressing what was wrong.
Mbalula said he stated at the NEC meeting that his Gupta interaction had been wrong.
He told the commission he had witnesses who could attest that he had been called by Gupta, saying his cellphone records could be checked to confirm the call.
After revealing his interaction with Gupta, Mbalula “suffered a lot”, was “attacked” and “chased”, he told the commission.
He said the issue of the Guptas only made it back to the agenda of the ANC NEC when Mcebisi Jonas held a media briefing at which he revealed that one of the Gupta brothers had offered him a ministerial position.
The #GuptaLeaks – a series of emails reported in the media that exposed the Guptas’ inner workings and state capture – “then found its way back to the agenda of the NEC”, Mbalula said.
He said whenever the NEC at its meetings dealt with other issues about the Guptas, such as their controversial landing at Waterkloof, Zuma vehemently defended his relationship with the family.
He did not react to Mbalula’s revelation at the ANC NEC meeting of August 2011, Mbalula told the commission, adding that he did not recall Mantashe’s exact words, but the then secretary-general did say something.
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