Nene’s belated Gupta confession has plunged SA into crisis
Finance minister Nhlanhla Nene is a noble man, or so we all thought. That is until he shocked SA this week by admitting to having held formal meetings with the reviled Gupta brothers at their Saxonwold compound and even at their offices in Midrand. “Whilst deputy minister, I visited their home in Saxonwold on four occasions, always taken by my protectors,” he said. “I regarded the visits as one of my tasks as deputy minister to engage with different stakeholders in the economy. The visits were short, and initially [were] to discuss the economy, and to contribute an article to their magazine at the time, ‘The Thinker’.”
Nene’s revelations have left us with more questions than answers. What is it that he was discussing with the Guptas on the seven occasions that he met with them? We all know that when Mcebisi Jonas, who was deputy finance minister under Nene, met with the Guptas, they offered him the position of finance minister. We all know that he rejected them outright and immediately informed his close confidants in government, including Nene, what the Guptas had suggested.
Why was it that Nene never saw the need to disclose his own meetings with the Guptas? What was he hiding?
Of even greater importance is what was discussed at those meetings. Nene has told the Zondo commission into state capture that he and the Guptas discussed their media assets, the now defunct New Age newspaper and the ANN7 news channel. What did Nene promise the Guptas?
Themba Maseko, former head of the Government
Communication and Information System, has testified at length about how he was called by President Jacob
Zuma and asked to speak to the Guptas about government support for The New Age and ANN7.
According to Maseko’s testimony, he refused to cooperate with the Guptas, angering Atul Gupta so much he reported him to Zuma. Maseko subsequently lost his job.
Did Nene agree that the state would pump hundreds of millions of rands into propping up the Guptas’ propaganda empire? Is that why he was later rewarded with a promotion to finance minister in 2014? On
Tuesday it was reported that Nene had, among other things, discussed with the Guptas the Public Investment Corporation (PIC) deal with Iqbal Survé’s Sekunjalo Investment Holdings.
Nene was at one time chair of the PIC board by virtue of his position as deputy finance minister. Why would he want to intervene in a business transaction between Sekunjalo and the PIC, apparently at the behest of the Guptas? Nene also told the Zondo commission that he and the Guptas discussed the economy. Do finance ministers discuss the economy with random private citizens, or is it only with wealthy and well-connected businessmen?
We are not suggesting that Nene was captured by the Gupta family. His courage was apparent when he testified about how former energy minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson tried to coax him into signing off on the Russian nuclear deal and how it angered everyone, including Zuma, when he refused to do so, citing financial constraints as the main concern. Had he not been that steadfast, the country would have been saddled with a R1-trillion deal it could not possibly afford.
But by omitting to previously mention his numerous meetings with the Guptas, Nene has not only tainted his own reputation, he has placed President Cyril Ramaphosa in a predicament. Can potential investors trust a minister who seems to have played a role in helping those who looted billions of rands in state funds? What about the clean-up campaign and the new dawn, is Nene still part of this mission? Should he be presenting the medium-term budget policy statement in two weeks’ time? This is a major crisis.
Should he be presenting the mediumterm budget policy statement?