Opposition parties have released their hounds in an attempt to sniff out whether Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene lied under oath to the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture.
And if it is found he indeed lied under oath, Nene could face criminal charges that would shake the entire Cyril Ramaphosa administration to its foundation should he be found guilty.
Pressure could also start mounting on Ramaphosa to fire the minister, or for him to resign.
Yesterday, Nene’s enemies began preparing to nail him to the cross, with a view to exposing the entire Ramaphosa camp for not being as transparent as many thought they were.
The Democratic Alliance has asked the Public Protector, Busisiwe Mkhwebane, to probe the allegations surrounding a deal involving Nene’s son, Siyabonga, that the party said were serious and should be investigated.
The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) claimed Nene had lied to the commission when he claimed he never met the Guptas when in fact he visited their Saxonwold compound several times.
In a statement issued yesterday on the National Treasury website, Nene pleaded for forgiveness from South Africans for his visits to the Gupta house in Saxonwold and their family business in Midrand in 2010 while he was deputy minister of finance, and in 2014 as finance minister.
Nene admitted to “lapses in judgment” by not disclosing early enough that he had met with the Guptas.
“In return for the trust and faith that you have placed in me, I owe you conduct as a public office bearer that is beyond reproach. But I am human too, I do make mistakes, including those of poor judgment,” Nene said.
The EFF said the minister was not the “squeaky clean” saint that many regarded him as. The EFF was the first to highlight a conflict of interest by Nene in the matter.
DA MP David Maynier yesterday said he would like the public protector to investigate allegations against Nene.
This comes after a report by amaBhungane and the Mail & Guardian yesterday looking into the minister’s alleged involvement in a deal allegedly involving his son and an oil refinery in Mozambique.
The report said Siyabonga Nene’s business partner earned millions from a deal between PIC and S&S Refineries while Nene chaired the Public Investment Corporation (PIC).
Nene’s role in the deal was being questioned and some claimed he had influenced his son’s company or his partner to secure the deal.
Maynier was adamant that although Nene strongly denies that he ever acted inappropriately, his role in his son’s business deal must be probed. He vowed to request Mkhwebane to investigate the matter in order to determine whether there was any breach of the code of ethics by Nene.
Political commentators believe Nene is in a big fix, from which it may be very difficult to extricate himself.
Political analyst Daniel Silke said: “Nene has managed to put some blue water between him and the Guptas, but he is in an awkward position.”
Silke was echoed by fellow political analyst Khaya Sithole, who believed the minister could be in deep trouble.
“It’s a monumental disaster and doesn’t cast him in a good light at all. Whether he takes a leap forward and decides to resign is unlikely,” Sithole said.
But legal expert Sheena De Figueiredo from HJW Attorneys said it would first have to be proven that Nene was wilfully dishonest.
“First and foremost, it would need to be proven that Nene lied under oath beyond a reasonable doubt. It is my opinion that it is unlikely that he would not have been at all aware of his son’s business deals, and any involvement with the PIC. However, this would need to be proven before it could be taken any further.
“In our law, the making of a false statement under oath in the course of a judicial proceeding is a crime and a person found guilty of such an act can be charged criminally. The common law is supplemented by a statutory crime, namely making conflicting statements under different oaths [contravention of S319 (3) Act 56 of 1955],” De Figueiredo said.
According to De Figueiredo, it was necessary to criminalise the offence (of lying under oath) to ensure that witnesses always tell the truth and are not tempted to bend the truth to protect their own interests.
“Such a person could be found guilty of defeating or obstructing the ends of justice or perjury, should it be found that a false statement was made under oath,” she said.
Additional reporting by Reuters