I didn’t insist on Gama as Transnet CEO, says Jacob Zuma

Picture: AFP/KIM LUDBROOK
Picture: AFP/KIM LUDBROOK

Former president Jacob Zuma has denied that he insisted Siyabonga Gama be appointed CEO of Transnet, countering evidence by former public enterprises minister Barbara Hogan at the state-capture inquiry. 

“It couldn’t be like that. We don’t work like that,” he told the inquiry on Wednesday morning. He said his alleged interference would amount to him “undermining the process” of such appointments. “I did not put my preference on Gama or whoever.” Hogan previously testified that he told her that Gama was his “only choice” as Transnet CEO. This was despite Gama facing disciplinary charges. 

“I don’t remember myself saying these things. How could I have said these things when somebody has been charged with serious, serious charges? And I would say no, take the person. I don’t remember me insisting on this,” Zuma said.

Under Brian Molefe and Gama’s leadership, Transnet was accused of having disregarded policies and laws and of inflating costs when awarding multi-billion-rand contracts to build and deliver 95 and 100 locomotives to China South Rail (CSR) and China North Rail (CNR), respectively. Gupta family associates allegedly received billions of rands in kickbacks linked to these deals.

Last year, Hogan testified that, after current public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan withdrew his candidature for the position of Transnet CEO in 2009 and later became finance minister, a “fiction” emerged that Gama was second on the list for preferred appointment.

Asked to comment on this, Zuma confirmed that he knew Gama had also applied for the position. “Gama was known, he had worked [at Transnet] for a long time,” he testified, adding that “Those who were in the process felt that this is the man, we know him, he has been working here.”

Zuma then confirmed he had known that Gama had faced an inquiry into serious procurement irregularities, focused on accusations that he had irregularly signed off on number of contracts. He said it was “a well-known fact that Gama faced charges”.

He further confirmed that he had received a report from Hogan detailing the procurement irregularities under investigation, but told the inquiry “it was a report like all other reports”.

Hogan testified that following a vigorous process, the Transnet board determined that Gama was not a suitable candidate for appointment and would recommend Sipho Maseko for the post.

Zuma confirmed he was aware of the recommendation.

According to Hogan, Zuma was, however, intent on Gama’s appointment, and told her to await the outcome of his disciplinary process. Gama was found guilty of three of the four charges against him, then dismissed in June 2010.

Zuma fired Hogan months later, in October 2010, after former ANC MP Vytjie Mentor claims Ajay Gupta offered her Hogan’s position.

She would be replaced by Malusi Gigaba, who proceeded to recommend the appointments of Iqbal Sharma, a former associate of Gupta family business partner Salim Essa, to the Transnet board.

Brian Molefe was appointed Transnet Group CEO in February 2011. A month later, the board re-appointed Gama — on the basis that the findings made against him did not warrant dismissal.

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