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Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba visited the Guptas for “social cohesion reasons”, but denies they had any sway over him.
“During my tenure, I, at no stage, assisted the Gupta family, or any other private interest group, to capture the state,” Gigaba told the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs on Tuesday night.
The committee is holding an inquiry into four members of the Gupta family’s early naturalisation. The committee started listening to testimony at about 10:00. Gigaba appeared before the committee shortly after 22:00.
Gigaba said having studied a report of the testimony the committee previously heard: “I am satisfied that it does not implicate me in any wrongdoing.
“It is unfortunate that this issue of the naturalisation of one family, has been used to cast negative aspersions on me,” he said.
Gigaba disparaged an “unfounded narrative” tying him to the Guptas.
Nothing in the emails
He said he didn’t see anything in the #GuptaLeaks emails implicating him in any wrongdoing.
“All I have read is a paragraph pertaining to my advisor, Mr Thamsanqa Msomi, as well as a distorted email which purports to be an instruction from me sent by an administrator in my office,” Gigaba said.
“Since this issue made the news, I have asked him [Msomi] about the said emails. He has informed me that he, indeed, received an email from Mr Ashu Chawla, in April 2015, requesting assistance for visas for his clients.”
He said the ministry received correspondence on a daily basis, which it forwards to the department.
Gigaba denied that he ever met or corresponded with Chawla – a Gupta lieutenant who is a central figure in the #GuptaLeaks emails and in the testimony before the committee.
‘I had no relationship with the Gupta family beyond that of acquaintances’
Gigaba admitted to attending Diwali celebrations at the Gupta residence and the infamous wedding.
“I had no relationship with the Gupta family beyond that of acquaintances,” he elaborated.
“As a public representative and a politician it is inherent in my role to interact with as many stakeholders as possible, to be accessible to them and to hear their perspectives. It does not follow that I am beholden to someone because I have interacted with them.
“I have attended several functions where the Gupta family members were present in the presence of other public representatives and many other people, including at their home.”
He later said, to questions from DA MP Haniff Hoosen, that he attended the Diwali celebrations for “social cohesion reasons”. One was at the infamous Saxonwold residence and the other at an open field in Lenasia.
He declined to say which other Cabinet ministers were there.
“It’s irrelevant to the naturalisation. It’s irrelevant,” he said in a to-and-fro with Hoosen.
Visits to Saxonwold
Gigaba couldn’t recall how many times he visited Saxonwold, but said it was more than once, but less than five. It was for “just social functions”. He said some of it was before he was minister of home affairs, but could not recall when.
Gigaba didn’t recall any of the Gupta brothers calling him on his cellphone.
He also said he never met a member of the Gupta family outside of South Africa.
Earlier on Tuesday, questions arose about the removal of home affairs official Ronald Steyn from the New Delhi high commission, from where he was sent to Munich.
Steyn dealt with visa applications and testified that Chawla would on occasion call him about it. He would not issue visas if all the documentation were not correct.
The committee questioned this move, as it seems he was moved to make way for an official who would be more accommodating to the Guptas, Gideon Christians, who had sent his CV to the controversial family.
“It was clear that Mr Steyn’s placement in India was a mismatch and this resulted in strained relationships with the High Commissioner and impacting negatively on service delivery,” Gigaba said.
“I then requested that officials who understand the environment and who had been deployed there before, who would hit the ground running and be able to resolve the problems immediately, be looked into for an immediate solution.”
On Christians’s Gupta-connection, Gigaba said: “It is mentioned that Mr Christians communicated with Mr Chawla as far back as 19 September 2011. This makes it clear that, according to the information before the committee, Mr Christians and Mr Chawla started communicating years before I became the Minister of Home Affairs.
“Now, this information was not at anyone’s disposal at the time and even the security clearance process done independently by the SSA approved a top secret clearance for Mr Christians.”
The meeting adjourned at 04:00. The committee will reconvene in early December to listen to Chawla, among others.