5 important moments from Mzwanele Manyi's state capture testimony

27 November 2018 - 07:51 By Ntokozo Miya
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Former GCIS head Mzwanele Manyi at the state capture commission in Parktown, Johannesburg.
Former GCIS head Mzwanele Manyi at the state capture commission in Parktown, Johannesburg.
Image: Masi Losi

On Monday, when former government communications head Mzwanele Manyi responded to further interrogation of his testimony by the commission, he requested permission to first read a prepared statement before taking questions. 

Manyi, who headed the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) responded to a range of questions. Here are just five of the issues he wished to clarify for the commission.

The New Age as the preferred choice for government ad spend

The Gupta-owned publication was, according to Manyi, "not hostile to the government." 

Manyi said The New Age (TNA) was a "welcome" change because "government was suffering from a serious media onslaught" from mainstream media.

He added: "The challenge that government has had, is to say to media: we're not saying try to be nice to government, but try and be balanced in your reporting."

Manyi testified that mainstream media paid no attention to good deeds by the government.

"They wait until something is wrong, then they headline with that," explained Manyi.

"The posture of The New Age was the complete opposite. It was a posture of saying 'the glass is half full' as opposed to 'the glass if half empty', so it was a very welcome posture."

According to Manyi, not only was advertising space in the newspaper competitively priced, but the publication also gave government value for money in other ways.

"With The New Age, for instance, they would have a system where they would cover whatever they cover in the newspaper, but some of it would also be covered on their TV section without you paying more," he explained.

Phumla Williams and The New Age breakfasts

Regarding the testimony of acting GCIS CEO Phumla Williams, Manyi said: "It's quite strange how Ms Williams operates. On the one side she says this and the next time she says something completely different."

Manyi noted that, in her testimony, Williams had spoken about being "bullied" into participating in TNA business breakfasts, while in a 2013 letter she had spoken highly of the event. 

The letter was allegedly written by Williams in her official capacity, in response to questions from journalist Ranjeni Munusamy.

Munusamy wanted to know why GCIS was involved in the "elitist" breakfasts, which were out of reach for ordinary South Africans.

Manyi read the letter in which Williams is said to have replied: "The concept of The New Age breakfast meeting was one which appealed to government as it presented the best of both worlds."

"Government leaders could interact with the audience in attendance [at the TNA breakfast] and at the same time, reach millions of viewers," the letter continued.

Manyi took this letter to mean that Williams was fully supportive of the endeavour.

However, when pressed by the commission chairperson, Judge Raymond Zondo, Manyi conceded that Williams may have made those remarks because she was responding in her capacity as an employee of the state, and those many not have been her personal views.

Encouraging the use of TNA

Manyi did not deny that he had advocated for the use of TNA services within GCIS.

"Almost definitely, I would have encouraged everyone I could come across because this was actually assisting in the government's approach of multiplicity of voices," he said.

He added: "Although I might not remember the specifics but it's something that, generally, I would do because I thought it's the right thing to do."

Government advertising spend

Manyi presented financial statements for the two years he was at the helm at GCIS. 

He went into great detail about how the R194m paid by GCIS to media houses in 2011/12 was split among the key players.

Manyi told the commission that the biggest chunk, nearly R69m, had been paid to the SABC while almost R18m went to Ads24. 

He said that Tiso Blackstar pocketed just over R11m, followed by TNA, who bagged around R8.7m. Etv was the recipient of a little over R8.5m.

"That's how the lay of the land was," said Manyi.

"Let us not create the impression that this newspaper [TNA] gobbled up all of government advertising. They just took what was due to them which was in proportion to their size."

"White collar corporate capture of the state"

Judge Zondo asked Manyi to share his thoughts on the liquidation of TNA.

"I think the demise of this publication was really because of its focus on what I would call 'white collar corporate capture of the state,'" replied Manyi.

He made an example of the kind of stories that TNA reported on, which "made this publication very unpopular with everybody that is part of this white collar corporate capture of the state."

"Back in May 2017, there was a project that was happening at National Treasury. That project was called IFMS, Integrated Financial Management System, which was a system meant to integrate HR, finance and all that," detailed Manyi.

He described IFMS as "a VBS cousin."

Manyi said an internal audit by the National Treasury had found "at least 54 irregularities", 49 of which were deemed to be "catastrophic." These included a lack of adequate payment procedures and the absence of budget information.

"Basically, this thing was, like, on auto pilot. No one says you're on the right track or you're on the wrong track. It's just free flow."

According to Manyi, of the R4.3bn total that would have been spent on IFMS, the audit found that at the time of its investigation, R1.7bn had already been used "with nothing to show for it."

Manyi believed these kinds of exposés had made TNA unpopular, and led to its eventual demise. 

He denied that Treasury was "unfairly targeted" and said: "We are exposing the rot that is being unearthed by an internal audit of National Treasury, not of anybody else."

Manyi is expected to wrap up his testimony on Tuesday.

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