State capture inquiry: Jonas tells the inside story of Nhlanhla Nene’s firing

‘Mr Nene sent me a text message in which he said that the “axe has fallen”’

24 August 2018 - 13:17
By TimesLIVE
Nhlanhla Nene.
Image: VELI NHLAPO Nhlanhla Nene.

Former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas has revealed that the main reason former president Jacob Zuma fired then finance minister Nhlanhla Nene was because of his refusal to sign off on the nuclear deal.

In testimony before the Zondo commission into state capture, Jonas said the Guptas had informed him that Nene was to be fired. Jonas outlined how they had attempted to recruit him to act as their man in the Treasury.

Jonas informed Nene that he was to be fired at a meeting on the balcony of the Treasury building in Pretoria. They met on the balcony because they believed the department had been bugged by rogue security operatives.

“He suggested he should resign, because he was going to be fired in any event.

“I told him we should remain in our positions and ‘fight on’, if only to hold the line for the finance department. He agreed with my proposal.”

Jonas then revealed that on the day Nene was fired – December 9 2015 – he had once more opposed signing off on a deal to build a fleet of nuclear reactors. At the time it was speculated that the nuclear build could cost as much as R1-trillion.

In his testimony to the commission, Jonas said: “The pressure on us from former president Zuma and other members of the cabinet to approve the nuclear deal was immense, and was ultimately the trigger for Mr Nene’s dismissal on 9 December 2015, after he again refused to back the deal at a cabinet meeting that day.”

Jonas told how he found out about Nene’s dismissal. “Mr Nene sent me a text message in which he said that the ‘axe has fallen’.”

Zuma had then told Jonas that he had appointed Des van Rooyen to replace Nene.

“I asked him how he thought Mr van Rooyen would be capable of performing the job and cope with the financial markets. President Zuma said that I was there to help him.”

Van Rooyen was removed after three days following pressure on Zuma from top ANC and business leaders.