The Jacob Zuma presidency will go down in history as the only era when South Africa had two centres of power: one at the Union Buildings and another at the Gupta family’s Saxonwold compound.
According to Themba Maseko, former Government Communication and Information Systems (GCIS) CEO, the Gupta brothers – Ajay, Atul and Tony – had the power to summon ministers and high-ranking officials to their Saxonwold home “to be told to carry out orders or be dealt with”.
Testifying yesterday before the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, Maseko related a conversation with Ajay when he was told Zuma visited the family compound weekly, and met the infamous brothers regularly.
Maseko told how the Guptas mounted unprecedented pressure and threats on him while he headed the GCIS – one of the most strategic government agencies – responsible for driving government messaging and communicating policies to the public.
Maseko’s woes were sparked by him resisting any form of cooperation with the Guptas when it came to access to the R600 million budget meant for campaigns and advertising – which put him on a collision course with Zuma.
It began with a call in October 2010 from Zuma which did not last more than 90 seconds. Zuma had one instruction, delivered in isiZulu: “Mfo kabawo kuna la bafana bakwa Gupta aba funa usizo lwakho. Nceda uba size. (‘My brother, there are these Gupta guys. I want you to meet them and help them).”
As Cabinet and government spokesperson, Maseko found it “not unusual to receive a call from the president but the content was a major concern”.
“I received this call from the president before the meeting with Ajay. I think Ajay wanted to demonstrate that he had contact in the highest office in the land.”
For Maseko, that was the last conversation he had with Zuma on the Gupta matter.
Asked by Maleka why Zuma preferred to speak to him in isiZulu, Maseko replied: “If the former president comes here before you, he will explain better.
“He perhaps wanted me to be more relaxed. He must have suspected that the matter he was raising was not a proper subject to discuss with a civil servant.”
Maseko said he ‘had trepidations about the meeting he was going to have with Ajay”.
Maseko said the Gupta family were driven by a desire of “the quickest way of gaining cash”.
“They wanted to start with the media, state-owned entities and the dairy farm,” said Maseko.
Reflecting on the meeting, Maseko said: “Ajay cut to the chase. No pleasantries. He made it clear he wanted the R600 million for his newspaper – The New Age.”
SA’s brain drain
- 2010 marked a huge exodus of highly skilled civil servants in the country who left government for the private sector, former GCIS CEO Themba Maseko yesterday told the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture.
- Maseko, who spent 17 years in the civil service, said SA “lost some of the best brains who could have addressed problems of lack of service delivery to communities.”
- “Many directors general left government – signalling a huge brain drain in public service.
- “Some left because their political bosses wanted to work with other people. Some left because they refused to be part of illegal and corrupt practices,” said Maseko.