'Zuma told me to help Guptas'
A former cabinet spokesman has directly implicated President Jacob Zuma in a push to give government business to the Gupta family.
Themba Maseko, former CEO of the Government Communications and Information System, has told of how Zuma personally called him to ensure that he met the Gupta brothers at their Saxonwold compound in Johannesburg.
His bombshell claims, which appear to contradict Zuma's assertion in parliament that the Guptas solicited government favours without his knowledge, come at the end of a week of high drama for the president and the ANC.
Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas publicly confirmed reports that the Guptas had offered him the finance ministry late last year while Nhlanhla Nene still held the post.
Jonas immediately received backing from ANC grandees while former party MP Vytjie Mentor also stated that she too was once approached by the Guptas with a cabinet job offer.
Maseko said that in late 2010, he received numerous requests from the Guptas for a meeting .
On the day he finally agreed to meet them at their Saxonwold home, he received a call from the highest office in the land.
"As I am driving out of the GCIS building [in Pretoria], I got a call from a PA from Mahlamba Ndlopfu, saying: 'Ubaba ufuna ukukhuluma nawe [The president wants to talk to you],'" said Maseko.
"He came on the line. He greeted me [and] said: 'Kuna labafana bakwaGupta badinga uncedo lwakho. Ngicela ubancede [The Gupta brothers need your help. Please help them],'" he said.
With this account, Maseko is the first top official to directly link Zuma to lobbying for the Guptas to get business from the state.
Maseko said he told Zuma he was already on his way to Saxonwold and Zuma responded: "Kulungile ke baba [It's fine then]."
"I was so pissed off and a bit unsettled," said Maseko.
Maseko met Ajay Gupta and one of his brothers - whose name he could not recall.
"After niceties, Ajay said: 'We are setting up a newspaper called The New Age. I want government advertising channelled to the newspaper,'" recalled Maseko.
As GCIS CEO, Maseko was in charge of a media-buying budget of just over R240-million a year.
"I told them we do market research and look at the client's target market and select the right medium. Secondly, GCIS doesn't sit with the advertising budget but we deal with line departments."
But Ajay, according to Maseko, said this was not a problem as the Guptas would instruct line departments to advertise in the newspaper.
"[He said]: 'Don't worry ... tell us where the money is and tell departments to give you money and if they refuse we will deal with them. If you have a problem with any department, we will summon ministers here.'
"I said to them: 'Those are my leaders, I am concerned if you give them instructions.' He said that's none of my business," said Maseko.
"At that time I got really pissed off. Ordinarily, if confronted with a situation like this, you drive straight to the office of the president of the ruling party but the president of the ruling party had just instructed me to help these guys. I didn't do anything but just spoke to close friends about it."
block_quotes_start He [Ajay] said if the ministers were not co-operating, they [the Guptas] have a way of dealing with them block_quotes_end
Maseko said he was rattled by Ajay's comments that his family would deal with unco-operative ministers.
"I was extremely perturbed. He [Ajay] said if the ministers were not co-operating, they [the Guptas] have a way of dealing with them. [He said] they have regular weekly meetings with the president."
A few weeks later, Maseko said he received a call from a senior staffer at The New Age newspaper who demanded a meeting with him. It was a Friday and Maseko was on his way to North West for a family getaway. He said he told the newspaper employee to make an appointment with his office on Monday.
"He said: 'I'm not asking you. I am telling you. The meeting has to happen. It is urgent because of the launch of the TNA.'"
This was followed by a call from Ajay an hour later, said Maseko.
"He said: 'We are not asking you and actually, I want to meet you tomorrow [Saturday].' I kept on saying I am on my way to Sun City for a golf tournament and we can arrange the meeting on Monday.
"He said: 'I am ordering you to meet tomorrow.' I said he must go and f**k himself. I told him that there were ANC leaders who owned media companies and they never behaved like that or gave me such instructions. He said: 'I will talk to your seniors in government and you will be sorted out.'
"He said: 'We will get you, we will replace you with people who will co-operate.'"
A year later Maseko was removed from his position. "My removal was in 2011 and I am not sure if I could directly link it to this," he said.
Gupta family spokesman Gary Naidoo rejected Maseko's allegations, saying: "We are amazed by Mr Maseko's six-year-old allegations which he has chosen to share at this particular time with a receptive media keen to continue the denigration of the Gupta family."
Naidoo asked if Maseko had reported the matter to his political principals and if he did, he challenged him to produce proof.
"Much like Vytjie Mentor, we believe the 2010 allegations to be unfounded and part of an ongoing campaign to fuel an already vicious politically-driven attack on president Zuma, using the Gupta family as a proxy," said Naidoo.
Presidency spokesman Bongani Majola had not responded to the Sunday Times' questions at the time of going to press.
Zuma backers insist he is not to blame for the Guptas' approaches.