Guptas not implicated – Manyi

Ex-communications head 'struggles to find evidence' of claims against family at state capture

Former government spokesperson Mzwanele Manyi looks relaxed as he gets ready to be cross- examined at the state capture inquiry
Former government spokesperson Mzwanele Manyi looks relaxed as he gets ready to be cross- examined at the state capture inquiry
Image: Masi Losi

Former government spokesperson Mzwanele Manyi has denied that the Guptas have been implicated in serious corruption and state capture at the Zondo commission.

Under cross-examination by evidence leader Vincent Maleka, Manyi first said he did not know if the Guptas were implicated and then said he “struggled to find evidence to corroborate the claim” that they were incriminated.

Manyi said most of the witnesses had been “poetic” in their testimony, and told justice Raymond Zondo that he ought to “take the cup” for bringing real evidence.

He said he doubted the evidence of state capture presented by former government spokesperson Themba Maseko, former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas, public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan and former National Treasury director-general Lungisa Fuzile.

But under rigorous cross-examination by Maleka on evidence he had himself presented on government advertising in the Gupta-owned The New Age when he was the communications department’s head, Manyi started to come undone.

He resorted to filibustering and complained to Zondo about “loaded questions” from Maleka.

Manyi, who inherited the Guptas’ media entities through what he called a “vendor financing deal”, is the first witness to face cross-examination at the inquiry since public hearings began in August.

Maleka had to hold back on posing questions until Monday afternoon as Manyi insisted on first presenting his own evidence, as he had done on his first appearance at the inquiry two weeks ago.

Manyi defend the R8.7m in government advertising in The New Age newspaper in its first year of operation, saying this had been justified because the newspaper was not hostile to the government as were the rest of the mainstream media.

He said the government had been facing “a serious media onslaught” at the time.

Manyi claimed The New Age was stigmatised and had to close down because it had exposed white-collar corruption.

But when challenged by Maleka that the reporting of the paper and its sister entity – 24-hour news network ANN7 – on alleged corruption at the National Treasury also constituted critical coverage of the state, he claimed not to understand.

Manyi then said the reason The New Age got more spending was because other media “get things wrong”.

Manyi had to concede that major newspapers such as City Press, The Star and The Times all received less than R200,000 in advertising from the government in the 2011-2012 year, compared to R8.7m spent on The New Age.

The Daily Sun, which has the biggest daily circulation, only received R8,788 in government advertising that year.

Manyi said The New Age did not have Audit Bureau of Circulations figures to verify its circulation statistics but conducted its own audit to determine its readership.

He said the reason The New Age had received the lion’s share of advertising was that the government was “embracing” its newness and the paper would not have the factual inaccuracies in other media.

Zondo pointed out that The New Age had interviewed him when he became deputy chief justice and the article was riddled with false information and things he did not say.

Manyi seemed not to understand that Zondo’s criticism was directed at The New Age and responded: “I rest my case.”

He claimed that the government had also spent as much as it did on The New Age because of transformation priorities and the then target market of the paper.

Earlier, former Treasury head of communications Phumza Macanda told the inquiry how she was bullied by Mohamed Bobat, the adviser of Des van Rooyen during his short stint as finance minister.

Bobat had demanded that all media statements be approved by him before being issued. His manner had been quite aggressive and almost hostile, Macanda said.

She confirmed testimony presented by Fuzile that Van Rooyen did not seem to know Bobat and Ian Whitley, who were allegedly assigned as his senior staff by the Guptas.