The former chief of staff at the ministry in the presidency and public service and administration, Abednigo Hlungwani, says he received a private phone call and text message “discouraging” him from talking about former Government Communication and Information Systems (GCIS) head Themba Maseko’s removal.
Hlungwani was testifying at the state capture inquiry on Monday.
He said the call occurred when former president Jacob Zuma was testifying about Maseko’s removal at the GCIS last month.
Hlungwani told inquiry chairperson Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo he had received the phone call and text message on July 16.
Zuma appeared before the commission from July 15 to 19.
“I have great respect for former president Zuma. The incident that I will speak about, it was an incident of employer and employee and now that the employee is no more, I found it difficult,” he said.
“I would have preferred not to be here because it turns out to me that on that day [Zuma’s testimony], there was a lot of social media back and forth … media was reporting about that testimony.
“I did get one call and it said, ‘You dare say something about what you know about the removal of Mr Maseko’. But I didn’t take it seriously chair…,” Hlungwani said.
Maseko had testified last year that he was fired shortly after refusing to abide by Zuma’s instruction to “help” the Guptas with their new venture, the now-defunct New Age newspaper, in 2010.
Hlungwani was also asked if he was aware of Maseko’s removal at the time.
He said he had received two calls from one of Zuma’s private secretaries who indicated they were abroad at the time and that Zuma wanted to speak to then-minister Collins Chabane.
“I think we were at the Union Buildings on the day … private secretariat at that point indicated they would call back and said I must inform the minister to expect a call from the president. Moments later a call came through, same private secretary on my cellphone number.”
He said he handed the phone to Chabane and the private secretary was still on the line.
Hlungwani said he could not say for certain whether the person Chabane spoke to was the former president, adding that he was not privy to the conversation.
After receiving the call, Chabane apparently said he would like to talk to Maseko, Hlungwani said.
He said a few days later Chabane did not say anything to him about removing Maseko, he only said “we would have to move Themba”.
Hlungwani said he had learned through the news that Maseko was removed and replaced by Mzwanele Manyi.
Earlier on Monday, the commission heard testimony from the former chief director in the presidency, Brent Simons, who accused Zuma of being “untruthful” when he testified that he had not instructed Chabane to fire Maseko.
Simons told Zondo it was “totally contradictory to the character of the minister [Chabane]” to have misused Zuma’s name when he fired Maseko, as Zuma had alleged.
When Zuma testified before the commission in July, he said people sometimes used his name without him knowing.
Chabane was a minister in the presidency at the time.
During his testimony, Simons said Chabane indicated to him at the time that the former president had instructed him to get rid of Maseko even though he, Chabane, was not keen on doing it.
Zuma also made reference to the testimony of Bruce Koloane, the South African Ambassador to the Netherlands, saying he too admitted to Zondo that he had lied when he said he had received instructions from Zuma to pressure officials to expedite the processing of the flight clearance request for the Gupta aircraft landing at the Waterkloof base in 2013.
Zuma also told Zondo he could not recall making a call to Maseko to give him instructions to “help” the Gupta family.