The reinstatement of Siyabonga Gama as Transnet Freight Rail CEO was in the spotlight at the Zondo Commission.
- A former special advisor to then-minister of public enterprises Malusi Gigaba denies claims he applied pressure to have Siyabonga Gama reinstated as Transnet CEO.
- Siyabonga Mahlangu further claims he does not know of any person in government or Cabinet in 2011 who played a role in having Gama reinstated.
- In previous testimony at the Zondo Commission, Transnet’s former legal head claimed Mahlangu told him “Number One” wanted to have Gama reinstated quickly.
Despite apparent difficulty recalling some of the details of what occurred nine years ago, a former special advisor to then-Minister of Public Enterprises Malusi Gigaba claims he was never instructed by Gigaba nor former President Jacob Zuma to put pressure on anyone to reinstate Siyabonga Gama as Transnet Freight Rail CEO in 2011 after the latter was found guilty of misconduct in 2010.
“I have never met nor had conversations with Zuma other than at large gatherings. He has never instructed me to put pressure on anyone to finalise the reinstatement of Gama, nor did Gigaba. At no point did the minister advise me that the president wanted Gama reinstated or that the dispute with him be resolved expeditiously,” Siyabonga Mahlangu, an attorney, told the Zondo Commission on Friday.
According to Mahlangu, he does not know of any person in government or Cabinet in 2011 with knowledge of the matter or who played a role – directly or indirectly – in having Gama reinstated nor regarding the terms thereof.
Gama is among several former top managers who have been linked to allegations of aiding corruption at the state-owned logistics agency. He has not yet appeared before the Zondo Commission into State Capture.
In prior testimony at the commission, Transnet’s former head of group legal Siyabulela Mapoma claimed Mahlangu called him to say “Number One” wanted to have Gama reinstated quickly.
“I never said Number One wanted to get it done quickly. The term Number One is usually used for a sitting president, so I presume Mapoma used it in the same way, but his allegation is without basis. I do not refer to a sitting president as Number One. I would usually refer to former president Zuma as JZ or Zuma,” said Mahlangu.
He said he has no knowledge of whether Gigaba discussed the Gama issue with Zuma or not.
Deputy Judge President Raymond Zondo put it to Mahlangu that, given the nature of the settlement agreement the Transnet board reached with Gama, surely one would have looked for a reason why Transnet as employer would settle on terms which were very much in favour of Gama as employee?
Mahlangu claims the first time he saw the contents and details of the settlement with Gama was when it was provided to him by the Commission.
“I was not involved directly or indirectly in the reinstatement of Gama. The only insight I had was when I was informed by former Transnet board chair Mafika Mkwanazi that the board planned to reinstate Gama. Due to the passing of time I cannot recall the exact details of my discussion with Mkwanazi. He referred to me on things he needed me to convey to the minister informally,” said Mahlangu.
“During my conversations with Mkwanazi I advised that it was prudent for Transnet to seek legal advice on the issue, but it remained with the chair on how he intended to proceed. I do not recall if Minister Gigaba was officially briefed by the Transnet board on their intention or decision to reinstate Gama.” Justice Zondo then referred to prior testimony by former minister of public enterprises Barbara Hogan, who claimed Zuma told her he had only one choice and that was Gama.
“Zuma has denied having said that, but in the end, if the finding were to be that Ms Hogan’s evidence is true, then one would look at this kind of mysterious reinstatement of Gama and of him within three years of being reinstated becoming group CEO of Transnet,” said Zondo.
Mahlangu said he agreed.
“You have asked the right question,” he responded to Zondo. “In a settlement you want to know what that other party gave and what you are buying. From a lawyer’s perspective it is a bit curious. I am not sure if there were commercial issues, but that is for the Transnet board to answer.”
“As for my part, I cannot take it further than the fact that I was not an automaton. I gave advice and where necessary I would just let the system work.”
– Siyabonga Mahlangu
‘I have memory lapses’
In one of two emails which Mahlangu supplied to the commission after he provided his initial affidavit, he does appear to suggest that Gigaba “socialise” Zuma about what Transnet intends to do regarding reinstating Gama. Mahlangu repeatedly said he cannot clearly remember much about the emails.
“By socialising the president, I meant make him aware due to the importance of the Gama matter. It was of public interest and the public was interested in the matter at the time. You had to make sure those aligned to the president would also have had their say to him about the reinstatement of Gama. I don’t know if Gigaba had the president’s support about it. My advice to Gigaba was in the context to say ‘minister, if this thing backfires you would want the president’s backing’. I have memory lapses. I don’t know if Gigaba socialised Zuma about the Gama settlement,” said Mahlangu.
Zondo commented at the closing of proceedings that, what was interesting was that two witnesses claim instructions were given regarding reinstating Gama. Mapoma talked about an instruction and about Mahlangu pressuring him and saying “Number 1” wants it done quickly, and Mkwanazi talked about there having been an instruction, which he claims came from Gigaba at a meeting he had with him.