Perhaps because he seemed like such a breath of fresh air, it seemed like Roy Padayachie was the communications minister South Africa had been waiting for. After the train wreck that was Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri and the wayward TV format that Siphiwe Nyanda tried to introduce, long-serving deputy minister Padayachie seemed not only rational but someone who understood his portfolio.
But weekend revelations in the Sunday Times revealed that Padayachie was one of those ministers appointed by former President Jacob Zuma who served other masters: the Guptas.
This was confirmed by my friend Duncan McLeod, a deeply integrous technology journalist who runs the TechCentral.co.za news website, who has written about his bizarre encounter with Padayachie and a certain Atul Gupta. The notorious Gupta brother ranted for two hours about how his family didn’t deserve the bad press they were getting and offered McLeod a TV show on the now defunct ANN7.
It’s an all-too-familiar tale: a Zuma-appointed Cabinet minister and a Gupta brother try and bribe someone.
The Zondo Commission is unfolding with a string of high-profile civil servants repeating such accounts and revealing the mercenary depth of the Gupta looting. Even in the darkest of the actual State Capture Years, we didn’t realise how truly bad it was – and how venal the people willing to loot from the state were.
The #GuptaLeaks revealed that former Communication Minister Faith Muthambi forwarded confidential Cabinet minutes to the Guptas, who were vying for a lucrative contract to build set-top boxes for the switchover to digital terrestrial television (DTT).
But know we know just how corrupt she was. “She wanted to steal at all cost,” said acting Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) CEO Phumla Williams on Monday.
Williams told the state capture commission of inquiry last week how Muthambi insisted on being called “honourable minister” in written correspondence – seemingly ignorant of it being an honorific only used in Parliament. Venal and asinine.
But the line that sent chills down my spine was Williams’ comment about Muthambi’s brazen impunity: “She was cheating the state because she wanted that procurement at all costs, she wanted to steal at all costs”.
Muthambi, a staunch defender of Zuma who recently came to support him when he appeared in court, was “an enemy working against the state,” Williams added.
How long will it take for the Hawks to charge Muthambi with leaking confidential Cabinet minutes? I’m also not holding my breath.
As Williams, an MK operative who was tortured during the struggle, said: “I never thought in this government people can do such things.”
Telecommunications is the lifeblood of this new digital world we live in. Why can’t anyone in government get that?
When President Cyril Ramaphosa finally rationalises the bloated Cabinet – which Zuma expanded to give jobs to pals – he needs to recombine the Communications ministry with the Telecommunications and postal service ministry. The split was also a diversion so that the Guptas could get the set-top licences, while Muthambi – like Padayachie before her – could push through the ruinous New Age breakfasts that the SABC sponsored.
Ramaphosa also needs to appoint a competent, honest and visionary minister to drive this important ministry that is so key to driving the digital economy.
And, because justice demands it, somebody has got to go to jail.
This column first appeared in Financial Mail