Former communications minister Faith Muthambi was not interested in serving South Africans and “wanted to steal” at all cost, the commission of inquiry into state capture heard on Monday…
Acting Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) CEO Phumla Williams broke down as she told the commission how Muthambi had “tortured” her during her tenure as the department’s acting director general.
The commission, which is investigating allegations of undue influence by the Gupta family on former president Jacob Zuma’s administration, is expected to hear how R55m was paid to the Gupta-owned The New Age (TNA) newspaper via the SABC/TNA breakfasts.
Williams’ relationship with Muthambi became strained shortly after Muthambi was appointed to lead the communications ministry in 2014.
Williams says she was demoted from the position of acting director general and was replaced by a junior official, Donald Liphoko.
Later, she was also stripped of 70% of her functions as deputy director general, including her responsibilities over supply chain management and the chief financial officer.
“She wanted to steal at all cost,” Williams said of Muthambi, whom she had also compared to torturers during the apartheid era.
“I am really being sorry to say what I want to say. Minister Muthambi had ripped [open] my scars of [apartheid] torture,” Williams testified.
“I think when I was writing this letter, the effects of my torture were back. Chairperson, I was no longer sleeping, I had nightmares, I was reliving my situation. My facial twitches were back,”
Williams told the commission that she was an African National Congress activist who was arrested in 1988 in Soweto and underwent weeks of torture as the apartheid government wanted to turn her into an askari (a member of the ANC who changed sides and joined the apartheid government’s police force).
“I think when I was writing this letter, the effects of my torture were back. Chairperson, I was no longer sleeping, I had nightmares, I was reliving my situation. My facial twitches were back,” she said.
“I had panic attacks, I saw torture going through my body again. I never thought, in this government, people can do such things. I was tortured for weeks, and Muthambi did the same thing to my body. And that’s why I wrote this letter, as a way of trying to get her to understand what she was doing.”
‘Quitting would let South Africans down’
Willams also told the commission that she had to accept that she was dealing with an “enemy that was willing to steal” and that Muthambi had decided that the finances and procurement must be removed from her responsibilities.
She said she had written a letter to notify the department of her intention to apply for early retirement. Muthambi, however, had misconstrued it as a resignation, the commission heard.
At the time of penning the letter, she said she was having panic attacks, battling to sleep and was in shock that someone serving a democratic government would “torture her”.
She told the commission that she later rescinded the notice to go into early retirement, deciding that Muthambi was “an enemy working against the state”.
She said “quitting would let South Africans down”.
“quitting would let South Africans down”.
While testifying, Williams’ sister – who was seated in the room – also started crying as she listened to the harrowing testimony.
Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, who is chairing the commission, had to request a short adjournment, as Williams became emotional.
Williams said Muthambi wanted to oust her because she wanted someone in charge of procurement and finances that “they could manipulate”.
Earlier, Williams told the commission that GCIS had been without a director general for more than six years. The post had been vacant since Mzwanele Manyi left in August 2012. She had acted for almost five years intermittently.
Williams said, for many years, the institution was regarded as a “Hollywood” by those who worked there, but when Muthambi was appointed as minister it became dysfunctional as she personally took over the powers of appointing officials.
However, she failed to fill many posts that were left vacant as senior officials resigned.
The legal team at the commission explained that Williams’ testimony was to demonstrate how an institution was made dysfunctional to allow for state capture to happen.
“What was particularly frustrating is that, when you are acting [in a position], you are then continuously bullied and you almost find it difficult to perform [your job],” she said.
Williams told the commission that she had written to former president Jacob Zuma, asking him to intervene, but he had not responded.
A visibly shocked Zondo asked if the president would be unaware that the department had no director general.
“Year in and year out, the auditor general has raised concerns about it… my understanding is that the president of the country should be aware…” Williams replied.
She also explained that Zuma had to be aware, as he attended Cabinet meetings where she was addressed as acting cabinet spokesperson.
She said, when Minister Ayanda Dlodlo was appointed, she fast-tracked filling many of the appointments.