The third day of Zuma in the hot seat at the Zondo commission of inquiry commenced with the revisiting of a matter that had been dealt with the day before and ended in an impasse.
Evidence leader advocate Paul Pretorius explained that overnight, the legal team would reflect on the events of the day, and may realise that there is an issue to be clarified. This is also in the interests of the witness. He further iterated that this happens regularly in proceedings of this matter.
Judge Zondo recommended that the proceedings should be allowed to continue as smoothly as possible, without anyone compromising their position. Everyone has a job to do.
The main matter of the day concerned the testimony of Barbara Hogan, former Minister of Public Enterprises.
One of the issues raised by Hogan was that of deployment, and how it was utilised in a manner to influence appointments of board members and senior executives at state-owned entities (SOEs).
Zuma confirmed that there was such a department. Ministers would rely on the party to make recommendations for positions. But the party would only recommend, not impose candidates. There would be a discussion, but a governance process had to be followed.
Hogan had testified that when Mario Ramos resigned as CEO of Transnet in 2009, the Transnet board, after having gone through a proper process, recommended Sipho Maseko as the preferred candidate. However, according to Hogan, Zuma had insisted on the appointment of Siyabonga Gama as CEO.
Zuma allegedly informed Hogan that Gama was second on the list of preferred candidates, and that he was his only choice. Hogan said that there was no such list – it was fiction.
Zuma was asked if he was aware of such a list, and replied that he may not remember the details, but did remember that Gama had applied. He said that Gama was known, and capable. It was a discussion between the cabinet and ministers.
Advocate Pretorius started questioning Zuma on what he could remember; did Zuma insist on the appointment of Gama? Did he remember that a memorandum was submitted to the minister, then Hogan, recommending Sipho Maseko?
Zuma didn’t remember the background nor the details. Nevertheless, he “wouldn’t have said that”.
Pretorius recounted how Hogan was shocked and disappointed when Zuma said that Gama was his choice. She didn’t think she could override the board who had selected Maseko. Zuma didn’t remember saying this.
Zuma was asked whether he remembered being informed by Hogan that Gama was facing a disciplinary inquiry. Zuma’s answers were vague, and he said he didn’t remember.
At this point counsel for Zuma, advocate Muzi Sikhakhane, interjected saying it was not fair to question someone who was head of state as to the process of selecting a candidate.
Sikhakane also asked what this had to do with fraud and corruption.
The chair explained that it was important to know what had happened – it is the due process whether followed or not.
Hogan had sent Zuma a comprehensive report detailing the selection process and details of procurement irregularities. He had not responded to the report.
Pretorius: “Do you recall receiving this report?” Zuma: “Yes I received the report, it was just a report like all other reports. I read it – but it was just a report.”
After lunch, Zuma said he had a problem with being made to go through details, paragraph by paragraph. He is not a cabinet secretary who takes minutes.
Zuma was of the view that if he said that he didn’t remember or that he did not say a particular thing, that that was the end of the matter, and that it should go away.
The chair explained that it is important to have the whole picture, and that advocate Pretorius wouldn’t want a situation where he doesn’t put something to the witness, as it would look as though the witness was not given a chance to comment.
Zuma said: “I hear you chair but my problem is not going to go away. For example, the allegation by the minister that I interfered. What is this? They consult with the president. The president may have views. I do not understand that very broad word – he ‘interfered’.”
Zondo explained that the commission had heard how Hogan briefed Zuma on the appointment of the CEO for Transnet and the board’s consideration of candidates, but she was shocked and disappointed when Zuma said to her that there was only one choice. This may well be an interference.
Zondo further explained that Hogan may have to be called back, and that the commission will look at all the circumstances surrounding the matter.
The proceedings appeared to have reached an impasse for the day. The chair decided that the two legal teams would have to meet the following day and agree on a process to take the matter forward. The proceedings will re-commence on Friday at 10am.