Pravin Gordhan, in his new role as a member of Parliament’s portfolio committee on public enterprises, has now zeroed in on Denel’s board, demanding it prove to MPs that it was pursuing national interests and not those of the controversial Gupta family.

The leaders of the state-owned arms manufacturer made a presentation to the committee on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Gordhan grilled the Eskom board, seeking answers for its re-appointment of Brian Molefe as its chief executive. At the heart of Gordhan’s searing indictment of the power utility’s board was the allegation that bosses at Eskom are in the process of “capturing” the parastatal for the “benefit of a few”. “Who instructed you to re-hire Molefe?” Gordhan asked of the board.

The former minister, who was axed in a midnight Cabinet reshuffle in March and is now an ordinary ANC MP, has the Asian joint venture between Denel and Gupta-linked VR Laser firmly in his crosshairs, according to reports by Fin24 and EWN.

“South Africans are worried that there is a common pattern in the capture process,” he said. “We’ve seen similar patterns here. Persuade us you had no choice at all to enter into this deal.”

The chairperson of Denel’s board, Daniel Mantsha, told the committee that the parastatal had not been captured.

Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown has barred Denel Asia from conducting business with the state until Denel has clearance from the treasury.
The state arms manufacturer has approached the high court to obtain approval for the venture.

Mantsha believes the venture with Denel Asia will help the state-owned enterprise profit from the lucrative Asian-Pacific aerospace market.  

Gordhan referenced an affidavit filed by former treasury director-general Lungisa Fuzile — which states that Gupta-linked VR Laser South Africa may not have enough funds to pursue the deal with VR Laser Asia, which is owned by Gupta associate Salim Essa — to justify his apprehension.

“Many things may look like business decisions on the surface, but we need to find out what’s below the surface. You need to demonstrate you’re not serving the families mentioned by yourselves,” said Gordhan.