State capture: Transnet agreed to pay Siyabonga Gama R2.3m - when in fact he owed it money
Zondo commission chair says 'that's a first' in his long career in law
In what deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo described as a “first” in his career, the state capture inquiry heard on Wednesday that Transnet agreed to pay Siyabonga Gama’s legal costs despite a cost order that he should in fact pay the SOE.
Zondo heard the revelation from Siyabulela Mapoma, a former head of legal services at Transnet. Mapoma was testifying about events around Gama’s sacking as CEO of Transnet Freight Rail in 2010. Gama would end up being brought back into the company a few months later.
Gama was fired at the time after a disciplinary inquiry found him guilty of three counts of misconduct. But Gama had the previous year lost a court battle in an attempt to block the disciplinary inquiry against him.
The judgment that dismissed this attempt ordered that he pay Transnet's costs and those of board members he had cited in the application. But when Gama returned to the logistics SOE, an “unusual” unfair dismissal settlement worked out between him and Transnet decreed that Gama was to be paid 75% of the legal costs that were due to Transnet, as per court order.
But to make matters worse, there was a duplication in the costs. Transnet paid both based on its calculations as well as those of Gama’s lawyers, amounting to R2.3m.
Commission chair Zondo said this was a “first” in the many years that he had been working in the law and judiciary.
Mapoma agreed that it was “irrational” for Transnet to pay someone who owed the company. But he facilitated the payment because the “decision was taken somewhere”.
“This was unusual and strange, to say the least. I found no rationality for this decision. I was reluctant to pay it but I was instructed to pay. I went to see Mr Anoj Singh [then Transnet CFO] to give me the go-ahead, and he agreed that I must pay and instructed my office to pay the money,” he said.
“Transnet had a cost order against Mr Gama which was taxed. Instead of him paying Transnet, the decision was that 75% of that must be due to Mr Gama.”
Mapoma also testified about political pressure that was exerted on him to “speed up” the return of Gama to Transnet in 2011. According to him, this pressure was led by Siyabonga Mahlangu, then special adviser to then-minister of public enterprises Malusi Gigaba.
Mahlangu, testified Mapoma, said “Number 1” — which he understood to be then-president Jacob Zuma — and Gigaba wanted Gama back at Transnet speedily.
“I received a call from Mr Mahlangu accusing Transnet of delaying the reinstatement of Mr Gama. Mr Mahlangu called me twice indicating that there was a concern from the presidency and the minister. I told him it was not my responsibility.
“The second conversation we had I was stern and told him I did not report to him and that he must never call me again,” he testified.
Mahlangu has filed an affidavit at the commission disputing Mapoma's version. But Mapoma was sticking to his guns.
The commission continues to hear Transnet-related testimony.