Former president Jacob Zuma on Tuesday said he did not call the former minister in the presidency, the late Collins Chabane, to instruct him to “redeploy” or terminate the contract of former Government Communications Information Systems (GCIS) Director General (DG) Themba Maseko.
Zuma on Tuesday returned to the commission of inquiry into state capture chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo where the former president and the commission’s evidence leader, advocate Paul Pretorius, dealt with Maseko’s affidavit before the inquiry which implicated Zuma.
According to Maseko’s testimony, Chabane was allegedly instructed by Zuma to “redeploy” or terminate Maseko’s contract at GCIS because he, Maseko, was not cooperating with the Guptas, who allegedly had attempted to pressure the former GCIS head to place government advertisement with the family’s The New Age newspaper.
Maseko told the commission that towards the end of January 2011, he was contacted by Chabane, who requested an urgent meeting. At the meeting the next day, Chabane told Maseko that he had been instructed by Zuma, who was out of the country at the time, that Maseko should be transferred to another department and his contract at GCIS terminated with immediate effect.
This after towards the end of November 2010 when Maseko had been allegedly contacted by an agitated Ajay Gupta who was again attempting to allegedly forcibly pressure Maseko to place government advertisements with the family’s newspapers, Maseko told the commission, adding that Gupta had said he would report the DG to his seniors in government – the minister in the presidency and the presidency – who would sort Maseko out and have him replaced with someone more cooperative.
Maseko also told the commission that after Gupta’s attempts were unsuccessful, he reported the interaction to Chabane.
Zuma on Tuesday told the commission that the Guptas had never reported to him that Maseko was uncooperative.
Maseko also told the commission that the Guptas’ pressure became a concern for him especially when he began receiving reports from the heads of communication in other government departments who complained about being “harassed” by officials from The New Age seeking to have meetings with them or attempting to pressure the officials to place government advertising with the newspaper.
Zuma on Tuesday said he was not aware of said pressure and that although the Guptas “from time to time” briefed him on the establishment of the newspaper, the family did not brief him on its financing.
Zondo asked Zuma if he would agree that Gupta’s comments that he would report Maseko to his seniors in government were an abuse of the businessman’s relationship with the DG’s seniors.
Zuma responded by saying he didn’t know what made Gupta say what he said, clarifying that Maseko’s immediate senior was the minister and not the president.
However, Zuma conceded that Gupta’s comments were improper.
“We did not discuss the operational things,” Zuma told the commission about his talks with the Guptas about the New Age.
The former president said Maseko’s transfer to another department would have followed discussions between the president and his ministers.
Zuma further said he never instructed Chabane to transfer Maseko and that the late former minister had previously talked about wanting to move the DG because of certain issues between them “but I can’t remember the details”.
Maseko was transferred to head up the department of public service and administration.
“I don’t remember exactly but there was a bit of shifting of DGs at the time,” Zuma said.
However, the former president said he found it “strange” and “fishy” that according to Maseko’s testimony he would wait until he left the country before giving an instruction that the DG should be sacked.
Zuma reminded the commission of the admission of the ambassador to the Netherlands, Bruce Koloane, last week that he wrongfully used the former president’s name to apply pressure on officials from the department of defence to process an application to illegally land an aircraft at Waterkloof Air Force Base. The aircraft had onboard guests to a Gupta wedding of 2013.
Zuma said he was “sure” that ministers would also drop his name.
The commission adjourned for tea after Zuma’s legal representatives raised a concern about the manner in which Pretorius was “cross-examining” the former president.
However, Pretorius said he was not “cross-examining” Zuma but rather giving the former head of state an opportunity to reflect on Maseko’s testimony.
Zuma’s legal representative also said it was “unfair” that the former president was being asked to recall and comment on phone calls and meetings he was not part of and was not aware of.