Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula was protecting his political position when he lied to former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela about hearing from one of the Gupta brothers that he was about to be appointed as minister of Sport and Recreation in 2010.
Mbalula’s evidence before Madonsela conflicts with the evidence he gave to the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into State Capture chairperson, Chief Justice Raymond Zondo said.
The story began during an ANC NEC meeting in August 2011 when Mbalula was alleged to have decried the increasing influence of the Gupta family on former president Jacob Zuma’s government.
In that meeting, Mbalula, who was then deputy minister of police, told NEC members of his concern that he had heard from the Guptas that Zuma was going to elevate him to the position of Sport and Recreation minister when he reshuffled his cabinet in October 31 2010.
Mbalula, however, dragged his feet to testify before the Zondo Commission.
He only came forward after former Finance Minister Trevor Manuel and former Communications Minister General Siphiwe Nyanda appeared before the commission to confirm that Mbalula had indeed raised the matter during the NEC meeting.
However, in his testimony to Madonsela on October 12 2016, Mbalula said:First and foremost, I would like to clarify the fact that I was not appointed nor contacted by the Guptas about my appointment as a minister.
“I was told by President Jacob Zuma that I’m going to be the minister, and we had a conversation prior to that with regard to the altercation we had in the ministry of police and then he said to me that I’m going to be moved.”
Mbalula added: “And then that’s when I knew. Then I was called by Lakela Kaunda to the presidential house, and I found the president and [indistinct] there, and they informed me that I’m the minister of sports and recreation as per our earlier discussions.
“So, none of the people that you have talked about [i.e. the Guptas] ever informed [m]e about the position of minister of sports and recreation.”
However, in his latest report which was released on Wednesday night, Zondo said it seemed that Mbalula lied to Madonsela because he gave a different version to the commission.
“If he lied to the Public Protector in this regard – as seems to be the case – the likely explanation is that he was protecting his own political position in the ANC and the government by shielding the then still powerful president Zuma from the Public Protector’s investigation into his relationship with the Guptas,” Zondo said.
“This, of course, would be no excuse,” Zondo added.
“His answer to the public protector was no momentary lapse. When reading the interview transcript, one is struck by his politician’s facility in walking like a trapeze artist along a line of artful prevarication – avoiding full disclosure as far as possible rather than falling into an outright lie. However, Advocate Madonsela’s persistent questioning led eventually to the latter result.”To the commission, Mbalula said:To the best of my recollection, he [Ajay Gupta] gave me a call. I think it was in the evening.“I was at a friend’s place and then he congratulated me and then he said congratulations minister of sports and recreation and then after that call he then went to talk further and so on.
“I do not recall what he talked about and then I related to a friend I was within his house that hey I got a call from the Guptas. They say I am going to be the minister of sports and recreation and then we talked about it. That this is what is wrong about these people and so on and that was it.”
In that reshuffle, Zuma axed ministers who he replaced with allies. Zuma fired Barbara Hogan (public enterprises) whom he replaced with Malusi Gigaba. He replaced Nyanda with Faith Muthambi and appointed Mildred Oliphant as minister of labour, a position that was occupied by Membathisi Mdladlana.