Businessman Atul Gupta and former president Jacob Zuma. File picture: GCIS
Businessman Atul Gupta and former president Jacob Zuma. File picture: GCIS

We were blindsided by Jacob Zuma’s friendship with the Guptas, Cyril Ramaphosa tells Zondo commission

By Kailene Pillay, Zintle Mahlati Time of article published Aug 13, 2021

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Johannesburg - Former president Jacob Zuma’s close friendship with the Gupta family “blindsided” many as he was “the ultimate leader” of the ANC and the country at that time.

President Cyril Ramaphosa said he believed state capture was a “well-organised project” that influenced policy and legal processes and offered protection to those involved.

Ramaphosa, who concluded his testimony at the state capture inquiry on Thursday, told the commission they were “blindsided” by Zuma’s friendship with the Guptas.

Facing his final day of testimony, Ramaphosa was questioned on key Gupta lieutenants that were appointed into state-owned entities (SOE) Transnet and Eskom and how this went unnoticed by himself and others.

Evidence heard previously at the inquiry revealed over R57 billion in government contracts were awarded to Gupta-linked entities by SOEs over several years.

Half of those deals were issued by Transnet.

As these contracts were issued, key Gupta-linked individuals were placed at Transnet.

One contract that was highlighted included the irregular acquisition of 1 064 locomotives at a cost of R54bn.

Evidence leader, advocate Anton Myburgh put it to Ramaphosa that as many of these contracts were issued, key people such as former public enterprises minister Malusi Gigaba, who admitted to being close to the Guptas, had been in charge of Transnet.

Former CEO of Transnet Brian Molefe, was at the helm, had also admitted to being close to the Guptas.

Ramaphosa said he was unaware of the relationship Gigaba had with the Gupta family and whether others did.

“How is it possible that this was not identified? This went on for a number of years.

“This happened in the light of day. How can it be that the GCE (group chief executive) accepts he was a friend of the Guptas?” Myburgh stressed.

Ramaphosa responded that these incidents might have gone unnoticed by some as the depth of the web of capture continued to grow.

“Chairperson it is conceivable (for corruption to go unnoticed) in a state capture type of environment where the capture of the State goes through a number of structures.

“They made sure that people who are going to implement this were appointed,” Ramaphosa said.

The president was also questioned on the abuse of empowerment initiatives at SOEs.

Empowerment deals such as the supply development partners and the business service development agreement were abused by Gupta-linked companies to obtain kick-backs.

In response, Ramaphosa said he was largely concerned about the damage outsourcing had caused to career service workers.

He said it was often abused and used to milk money from the state.

“The State has been so weakened over the years so we need to use well-trained people in the public service.

“During the period of state capture, people were sidelined and left the employ of the state because the tasks they were doing were outsourced.

“This clear outsourcing is a demonstration of capture.

“When we outsource we find ourselves paying more than we would have paid if we had not outsourced,” he said.

He also told the commission that part of the reason he brought the State Security Agency (SSA) under the Presidency was that he knew of the presidential protection unit that reported to spy-expert Thulani Dlomo.

“It is an agency that has been dogged with a lot of controversies, it has a lot of good people in it and we just need to realign its work.

“It is possible that in time to come, we may designate a person who can be in charge,” he said.

Ramaphosa said he became aware of the extent of the issues at the SSA, from the high-level panel report he had commissioned to investigate the agency. Ramaphosa made the report public in 2019.

He said he was waiting for the Zondo commission’s report to take action.

In his closing remarks, Ramaphosa said that despite the excellent work by many investigators, academics and journalists, the true costs to the country of state capture may never be known.

“We may be able to establish how much of public funds has been stolen by how much costs for public goods and services may have been inflated, and what it has cost to investigate these cases and prosecute those responsible.

“We could quantify this in terms of hospital beds, commuter trains, houses, social grants, water reticulation, maintenance of roads and any number of other public goods and services,” he said.

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