NOMPU SIZIBA: It’s the third day of testimony from former PIC CEO Dr Dan Matjila. He suggested that he was placed under a lot of political pressure by political players as they sought to have the PIC fund their agendas.
To give us some insight into what has been coming out of the proceedings so far, I’m joined in the studio by independent journalist Ray Mahlaka. Thanks very much for joining us, Ray.
RAY MAHLAKA: Thank you for having me.
NOMPU SIZIBA: Matjila has fingered former SAA person Dudu Myeni. What did he have to say about her?
RAY MAHLAKA: Well, Matjila’s testimony so far was centred around how he faced pressure from very powerful political people and influential business figures. One of these politically-linked individuals was the former SAA board chair, Dudu Myeni. This was back in 2016 or 2017, when SAA was facing a lot of financial pressures and required funding to boost its liquidity and keep the airline airborne. And one of the sources of funds in which Myeni allegedly targeted, was the PIC. Myeni allegedly asked Matjila for the PIC to prop up SAA’s financial position in the form of a R6 billion capital injection.
Matjila alleges that he saw no commercial merit in extending the loan, because, at the time, SAA was loss-making – and still is today – and there was no commercial viability in extending bridge funding to SAA. Matjila said he denied the loan.
Let’s talk about who Dudu Myeni is, first of all. We know that she is politically connected; she is linked to the former president, Jacob Zuma, and they are known as “pals”. Matjila said that he was placed under pressure for rejecting SAA’s request for that funding, and I guess Myeni allegedly used her networks to pressure Matjila into giving in, but he didn’t.
NOMPU SIZIBA: Interestingly, Ray, I do track your tweets. You are a very vocal young man on Twitter, and one of the things I learnt is that Matjila was talking about being politically influenced, but not really dropping names, apart from Dudu Myeni. Did he mention any other people specifically, and did the commissioners really try to push him to extract information around whom he was talking about specifically?
RAY MAHLAKA: He’s been speaking in very vague terms since Monday, saying “powerful politicians”, saying “influential business people”, but he wasn’t giving specific names as to who he was talking about. He was even pressed by the inquiry panel members to mention names and he said, “I’m not comfortable to do so.”
But something remarkable happened after lunch today. He was asked to give one of the names – because he talked about a very senior politician who asked the PIC to extend funding for the NEC’s January 8 event. We know it’s a big event on the ANC’s calendar every year, because it marks the ANC’s birthday bash. He was pressed to give which senior politician wanted PIC funding.
Remarkably, he said Dr Zweli Mkhize, who in 2016 was the treasury-general of the ANC. He would have been responsible for the kitty and fund-raising for ANC events as well. So, he implicated Zweli Mkhize. But, equally important, Matjila said he did not give in to Zweli Mkhize’s request for PIC funding. What he did was refer Zweli Mkhize to business individuals who received funding from the PIC, PIC beneficiaries. These are very powerful individuals.
NOMPU SIZIBA: An interesting observation that I made was that Commissioner Gill Markus kept on pushing Matjila about how he conducted meetings, and she asked him, “Don’t you minute your meetings?” Most of the time you got the feeling that, even when he had formal meetings with people, he didn’t minute them. Just speak to us about that.
RAY MAHLAKA: Absolutely. We are talking about off-the-book meetings here. There were instances where Matjila met the former deputy finance minister, Sfiso Buthelezi, who in turn was the chairman of the PIC board, by convention. That wasn’t recorded. That was off the books.
There were instances where Matjila met journalists, these meetings were off the books, as well. It seems like there were moments in which Matjila would have these clandestine meetings with key board members, as well. What his positioning is, is that his relationship with other board members was adversarial. He didn’t know who to trust. So, one of his ways to protect himself was to have these off-the-books and off-the-PIC-offices meetings, to sort of protect himself. It seems like the culture, at least at a board level, was to have these clandestine meetings.
NOMPU SIZIBA: We are going to wrap up, but just the overarching theme of his testimony over the past three days – what kind of projection has he tried to make?
RAY MAHLAKA: First of all, he’s a victim. He has portrayed himself to be a victim being placed under pressure by businessmen and politicians. But we know that Matjila is at the centre of corruption allegations at the PIC. About 70 witnesses have testified at the PIC inquiry since February, and they’ve placed him at the centre of extending funding at the PIC based on favouritism and friendships, and non-commercial viability of deals.
So, he has so far placed himself as a victim, placed himself as a key saviour of the PIC from state capture, fighting the nefarious forces that are trying to reach the more than R2 trillion the PIC manages on behalf of pensioners. He sort of positions himself as an anti-state-capture crusader. But remember, this is the guy who is still facing damaging allegations of corruption.
NOMPU SIZIBA: And, lastly, in terms of the engagements between him and the commissioners, has those remained cordial? On Monday, when I spoke to Tebogo Tshwane, who was covering this story for us, she indicated that the relations were cordial. But, as more substantive stuff has come to the table, has it got a bit more adversarial?
RAY MAHLAKA: I would say Matjila has been very cooperative so far. He answers any questions he is asked by the panel members. I would only say the part in which he was treated with kid gloves at the inquiry was that he is not being pressed to really name these individuals. It’s unheard of, because, if you look at the Zondo Commission, for example, Judge Zondo wants names, he wants the specific details, and he doesn’t let witnesses go away without giving details in a very granular manner, whereas Matjila has been given latitude to not really implicate certain parties. You could say that he picks and chooses matters which he will explore and matters which he doesn’t want to talk about in much detail.
NOMPU SIZIBA: Interesting observations. Thanks very much, Ray for your time.