Johannesburg: A former South African lawmaker told an anti-graft inquiry Tuesday how she was offered a cabinet position by a businessman accused of masterminding corruption under then-president Jacob Zuma.
Vytjie Mentor told the judicial commission she had been seeking a meeting with Zuma and was surprised when she was driven to the Johannesburg house of the Guptas, a wealthy business family.
Ajay Gupta told her a cabinet reshuffle was pending and that she would be offered the job of public enterprises minister, a key role overseeing state-owned businesses at the heart of the graft allegations facing Zuma.
At this, she lost her cool and raised her voice, demanding how he knew about the reshuffle, at which point Zuma walked into the room.
She said she had expected Zuma to be angry that such an offer had been made by a businessman but instead, he appeared completely unfazed.
“He did not act surprised at all, his main focus was on calming (me) down,” Mentor told the inquiry in Johannesburg. “He did not appear angered at all.” The probe is looking into allegations Zuma organised the systematic plunder of government coffers by the Guptas and allowed them to choose ministers in a scandal known as “state capture”.
Mentor said she found the meeting “strange and discomforting”.
“The reaction of the president was disheartening to say the least and I decided to leave,” she said.
Zuma, 76, stands accused of being in the sway of the Guptas, allegedly granting them lucrative government contracts and deals with state-owned businesses.
He was forced to resign in February when ruling African National Congress lawmakers turned against him.
The inquiry, which is headed by deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo, opened this week and could take two years to deliver its findings.
The former president has separately been charged with 16 counts of graft linked to an arms deal from before he became president and will next appear in court on November 30 as the criminal case against him continues.