On Thursday the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture heard evidence aimed at establishing the veracity of certain aspects of the evidence given by the former editor of the ANN7 news channel, Rajesh Sundaram.
Sundaram was employed by Infinity Media to help establish ANN7, and arrived in South Africa in 2013. He related his experiences in his book ‘Indentured: Behind the Scenes at Gupta TV’ (Jacana Media, March 2018), and testified to the commission on June 3 and 4, 2019.
Sundaram’s book has been marked into evidence, and excerpts from his book have been included in the evidence led.
Evidence leader Mpho Rasivhetshele informed the commission that Moegsien Williams, former editor of The New Age newspaper, had declined to testify to the commission. He had however deposed an affidavit confirming the meetings held with former president Jacob Zuma, but denied that the editorial policies of ANN7 had been discussed with Zuma.
Sundaram, in his June 3, 2019 testimony, said there was a protocol at the meetings held with Zuma: “Moegsien Williams was the one who was heading the delegation.”
Relevant aspects of Sundaram’s evidence
Sundaram testified that he had attended three meetings that took place at the official president’s residence (then-Zuma’s), Mahlamba Ndlopfu, with the Guptas and Zuma. This was denied by Zuma.
The first meeting, which took place shortly after Sundaram’s arrival in SA, was a formal meeting at which they were to inform Zuma about the new ANN7 project (per Sundaram’s testimony on June 3, 2019).
Sundaram had described the security arrangements at the residence: “The vehicle [registration] number had already been given. We were flagged in and we did not have much difficulty finding our way into a waiting room … One thing that did strike me was the relative lack of security … here I found that there was nobody who sort out passports or identity details before we were allowed in. None of the bags that were being taken were put under an X-ray scanner.”
Sundaram also provided descriptions of the meeting rooms: “A room that contained leather bound books and a television set mounted on the wall, and a larger room that had various seating arrangements and a large mounted TV set.”
The second meeting was held on a Sunday morning in July 2013 to discuss editorial policy.
Ajay Gupta before the meeting declared that: “We will hear what he [Zuma] has to say, but we will only do what we think suits our vision.”
According to Sundaram, at the meeting Zuma announced that he would be in Mpumalanga the following week, and further said: “I will meet people in the local communities and announce measures for their welfare. But I am sure eNCA [TV station] will not cover that. Their reporter will seek out opposition supporters and do a negative story … ”
Zuma had denied informing the Guptas of his travel arrangements. (Sundaram couldn’t remember the date per his testimony, but the commission must have worked it out elsewhere as the week before Women’s Day in 2013.)
Inside the official residence
Evidence was given by Ramaru Mekgwe, a former household manager at Zuma’s official residence who commenced employment in August 2012 and had good knowledge of the official residence.
According to Mekgwe, some changes had been made since 2013, the only difference being that the TV sets were not mounted on the wall. Mekgwe agreed with Sundaram’s description of the security arrangements: “There were no metal detectors nor X-ray machines.”
Mekgwe had seen Gupta family members at the official residence, but no records were kept of visitors: “ … guests would come and go.”
Further evidence was given by Jaques Human, also a former household manager at Zuma’s official residence, who testified that he was not the household manager at the time of the alleged visits. He was appointed as chef at the official residence in 1995, moved to various other positions, and returned in 2018 as household manager.
Human was able to confirm that the descriptions of the meeting rooms given by Sundaram are substantially correct, with the exception of minor differences.
Human confirmed that there are no metal detectors at the entrance to the residence, and that guests are confirmed at the first entrance to the residence. The description of motor vehicles could be given to security prior to arrival, which also concurs with Sundaram’s evidence.
Did Zuma divulge his travel details to the Gupta entourage?
Gillian Pillay, formerly a senior news journalist at the SABC from 2003 to 2020, confirmed that Zuma was in fact in Mpumalanga the ‘following week’ to present the keynote address at the Women’s Day event at the Thulamahashe Stadium in Bushbuckridge on August 9.
Pillay was a roving journalist for the SABC at that event. The commission has video footage of Zuma at that event.
Zuma’s attendance at that event was also covered by the Department of Arts, Sport and Culture.