JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – Former South African President Jacob Zuma denied on Wednesday having interfered with the appointment of a chief executive at transport and infrastructure company Transnet, during his third day testifying at a corruption inquiry.
The inquiry is looking into allegations that Zuma, ousted by the governing African National Congress (ANC) party in February 2018, allowed cronies to plunder state resources and influence senior appointments during his nine years in power.
Transnet, which operates railways, ports and fuel pipelines, is one of a handful of state-owned firms that became embroiled in corruption scandals during Zuma’s tenure.
Zuma’s successor, Cyril Ramaphosa, is on a drive to clean up politics, although analysts say this effort could be hurt if the inquiry fails to pin down a case against Zuma. Zuma has long denied any wrongdoing.
Former public enterprises minister Barbara Hogan told the inquiry that Zuma had told her at a meeting in 2009 that Siyabonga Gama was his “only choice” to be CEO of Transnet.
Gama was at the time subject to disciplinary proceedings because of procurement irregularities, and Hogan said Transnet’s board of directors wanted to appoint another candidate it deemed better qualified for the job.
Asked whether he had told Hogan that Gama was his only choice for Transnet CEO, Zuma told the inquiry: “It couldn’t be like that, we don’t work like that. As I say there was a process. … I would have been undermining the process.”
Zuma, 77, has so far ducked and dived at the inquiry, which he agreed to set up during his final weeks in office.
On Tuesday he said he could not recall details surrounding an incident where his business friends the Guptas allegedly offered a former lawmaker a ministerial position.
On Monday the former president, who still enjoys significant support in rural areas and his home province of KwaZulu-Natal, said he was the victim of a decades-old plot by enemies at home and abroad to get rid of him.
Gama eventually became Transnet CEO in 2015 and was involved in allegedly corrupt contracts worth tens of billions of rands to procure locomotives.
Gama, who was fired last year after trying unsuccessfully to halt his removal, was not available for comment. He has denied the allegations against him.
A Gupta-linked firm earned huge consulting fees from the locomotives deal.
The Guptas, who left South Africa around the time Zuma was ousted, have consistently denied having looted state firms like Transnet.
Transnet has sought to recover via the courts money it says was misspent under Gama’s leadership.
State prosecutors have said they are following the inquiry and they could open cases if sufficient evidence of wrongdoing emerges.
(Reporting by Alexander Winning; Editing by Frances Kerry)