Former president Jacob Zuma has denied having had a hand in removing former Government Communication and Information Systems (GCIS) chief executive Themba Maseko, for failing to cooperate with the controversial Gupta family over the state’s R600-million advertising budget.
On Tuesday, Zuma told the judicial commission of inquiry into state capture that now deceased former minister in the presidency Collins Chabane “could have used my name” when he told Maseko that the president had asked that the communications head should be removed or transferred from the post.
Zuma denied that he was behind Chabane’s removal, saying there were “issues” between Chabane and Maseko which led to his axing and that the minister could have “used my name”.
He said the commission — chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo — has also heard evidence just last week about how individuals “used my name”, referring to the evidence of Bruce Koloane, the ambassador to the Netherlands, who said he lied about the fact that Zuma had instructed him to allow the Guptas to land at the Waterkloof Airforce Base, a national key point.
“At times people use the names of the president. I am sure you had a witness here which said he was lying he never had any instructions from the president. I am sure that could happen with the ministers as well if the minister is finding it difficult to say to the DG: ‘I am now saying go, and use the name of the president’,” Zuma said.
Maseko in his evidence to the commission said he had received advances from the Guptas to ensure that their publication, the New Age, received the government’s entire R600m advertising spend. He said he was called by Ajay Gupta himself who told him that his failure to cooperate would be reported to his seniors to “sort him out”.
Maseko told the commission that Chabane met him to say that Zuma wanted him transferred from the post or removed, but that he was aware that he was a good public servant so he would ensure that he was “looked after”. Maseko had also received complaints from communication officials from other departments about the Guptas demanding meetings over their advertising budgets.
Zuma had on Monday told the commission that the setting up of the newspaper and the Gupta-owned television channel, ANN7, was his idea and that he had even suggested the name for the New Age. On Tuesday, he said he did not know why Ajay Gupta would have said that he would “sort out” Maseko, but admitted that it was improper for him to do so.
Zuma further said that while the Guptas never discussed the “financing” of the newspaper with him, they briefed him on the progress of setting up the paper “from time to time”. Evidence leader advocate Paul Pretorius told Zuma that legally it would be his decision to remove or shift a director general at Maseko’s level.
“Yes it would be a decision in the main, taken. The minister would have briefed the president because the DG’s are actually deployed by the Cabinet. That type of a report would be reflected in the government but ministers would have discussed that with the president.
“If the minister says: ‘But look I just can’t work with this DG,’ it happens all the time. You can’t force the minister. So you say: ‘Ok proceed’, and then follow the process,” Zuma said.
He admitted that he would have participated in the decision to remove Maseko, but said he never instructed Chabane to remove or transfer Maseko, even though this is what Chabane told Maseko when he was shifted from the post in 2011.
“I never instructed the minister to do so. The minister discussed the fact that he would like to transfer Mr Maseko. Well I think there was an issue between the two of them. I can’t remember the details. Like all ministers he would come for us to be able to either agree so that an action is taken not to discuss,” he said.
Zuma said he could not remember exactly how Maseko was removed, saying there was a “bit of shifting around of DGs” and it would have been discussed more between Chabane and the minister of public service and administration at the time.
It was during this exchange that Zuma’s legal team objected to the manner of questioning directed at the former president, arguing that it was unfair for him to be “cross-examined” when the process was meant to be inquisitorial.