Driven by desperation for a slice of the R600 million campaigns spend which state departments allocate to the Government Communications and Information Systems (GCIS) to buy media space, Ajay Gupta wanted a meeting with then GCIS boss Themba Maseko.
Testifying yesterday before the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, Maseko, not a government employee any more, said Gupta knew about the R600 million 2010-11 budget that went into procuring goods and services for government departments and called him, requesting a face-to-face meeting.
“During each financial year, government departments identified campaigns to be launched nationally and would approach the GCIS for assistance on creative aspects,” said Maseko.
“They would also tap into our sizeable staff for capacity in terms of skills and platforms to reach various audiences.
“Ours was to do media-buying which took the form of adverts in newspapers and the electronic media. Departments would transfer budget for this to the GCIS.”
Without being specific on the details, he said: “Ajay called to say he needed government support for his new business project and requested a meeting.”
The venture, launched on November 6, 2016 turned out to be the Gupta-owned The New Age newspaper and ANN7 TV station.
At the time, Gupta served on the International Marketing Council board, which later became to be known as Brand SA.
Maseko said: “At the time, I did know him because he served on the board of the International Marketing Council, which later became Brand SA, and I would have a conversation with him and other board members.
“He did not give me specific details and said it was best to meet face to face.”
Rumours, he added, were rife at that time on how the Gupta family dealt with civil servants to push their business agenda by using “their highly placed government contacts”.
The meeting finally took place at the Gupta family’s Saxonwold compound, but without Maseko reaching any agreement in support of the project.
What followed his failure to lend support to Gupta’s media project meant coming under the family’s pressure.
“The view I hold of the Guptas is still the same – their approach was inappropriate,” said Maseko. “They said because I did not support them, I would be dealt with. Due to their demands, they wanted me to break the laws of the country.
“Laws like to PFMA [Public Finance Management Act] are sacrosanct, entailing fairness and openness. You cannot spend public money for the benefit of any individual.”
Maseko later found himself out in the cold for failure to toe the line of going along with the Gupta demands – a family with close ties to former president Jacob Zuma.
Cross-examined by senior counsel Isaac Maleka, Maseko spoke of rampant corruption within the South African government and state-owned entities, which reached a turning point in May 2016, leading to 27 concerned former directors-general speaking out about the high levels of looting during the Zuma presidency in a memorandum presented to former minister of finance Pravin Gordhan and former minister of public service Ngoako Ramatlhodi.
“As former directors-general, we brought a collective commitment to serve and dismantle the apartheid state machinery, replacing it with democratic institutions that were informed by democratic values, social justice, fundamental human rights and a deep desire to improve the quality of life of all South Africans,” read part of the memorandum.
Maseko continues his testimony today.