Embattled Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba on Tuesday distanced himself from business dealings between the Gupta family and State-owned enterprises during the four years he held down the public enterprises portfolio, and insisted he granted them no help in obtaining South African citizenship.
Gigaba told the parliamentary inquiry into Eskom that contracts the power utility entered into with Tegeta, Trillian and Regiments did not happen on his watch, therefore "I cannot comment on them".
During a heated exchange with Democratic Alliance MP Natasha Mazzone, Gigaba rejected any suggestion that he should have intervened to set aside contracts with the family's business empire as allegations of impropriety grew. He insisted that ministers could not, and should not, involve themselves in procurement.
"But I was not involved in who gets what, I was a minister and ministers must remain out of procurement in State-owned companies, as well as in their own departments," Gigaba said after Mazzone charged that he allowed State capture to happen "under your nose".
The minister argued that it would appear suspect if he suddenly took an interest in an open tender and asked questions about particular bidders.
In his testimony, which stretched for some seven hours, Gigaba repeatedly expressed concern about the Gupta family's influence over parastatals and political processes in the Zuma administration. He said it undeniably damaged the economy.
"I think the facts that are emerging before us would indicate that there was a lot of communication and background dealings that were taking place," he said when MPs raised reports that Salim Essa, a close associate of the Gupta family, sent Collin Matjila's CV to the family shortly before he was appointed acting CEO at Eskom in 2014.
Gigaba portrayed himself as a champion of competent executives at Eskom, saying he persuaded Brian Dames to withdraw his resignation the first time he wanted to step down as CEO, and pushed against attempts to portray former finance director Tsholofelo Molefe as "under qualified".
Pressed about unsound decisions, he said it was never brought to his attention that there was "a push for certain Gupta-related companies" but added that people who may have taken advantage of the situation when his attention was turned towards election campaigning.
"People may have taken advantage of the gaps there to take certain decisions that would obviously lead to certain causes."
He firmly rejected a suggestion from African Christian Democratic Party MP Steve Swart that Zola Tsosti was made chairperson of Eskom because he was a puppet of the Gupta family and dismissed their attempts to dictate to him as manipulation. Swart referred to an incident where Tony Gupta reportedly told Tsotsi that he was placed in his position by the family and that they would likewise remove him.
"I think he was playing marbles, he was trying to intimidate him. He had to stand firm and I applaud him for that," Gigaba said.
Swart then moved along to Tsotsi's claim that former South African Airways chairperson Dudu Myeni informed him, in the presence of then president Jacob Zuma, in 2015, that a number of Eskom executives would be suspended. He said the incidents created the impression that the Gupta family, "via the family and via you", held considerable sway.
"They played no such role to influence me," Gigaba responded, before suggesting that in Myeni's case the family may have had influence.
The inquiry has tried in vain to get Myeni to appear to give her account of the meeting, which took place at Zuma's home, according to Tsotsi.
The chairperson of the inquiry, Zukiswa Rantho, said on Tuesday that Myeni still maintained that her health did not allow her to travel to Cape Town. The Gupta brothers also shrugged off a request to appear to testify on Tuesday, possibly the last day of the inquiry.
MPs grilled Gigaba about his ties with family and whether they received preferential treatment from him when he served as home affairs minister for the first time. He vehemently denied the suggestion, pointing to the fact that Ajay Gupta was not granted citizenship because he refused to relinquish his Indian nationality.
He pointed out that nine members of the family were naturalised between 2002 and 2006, before he even became an MP.
He said four more were naturalised in 2015, and the department had been careful to respect the letter of the law.
"They were ordered to renounce Indian citizenship. One refused and therefore he remains a non-SA citizen. If there was a malicious attempt to grant them SA citizenship regardless of what the law stated, they would not have been asked to renounce."
Gigaba said that he had argued for Myeni's removal as SAA chairperson, but had championed competent executives at Eskom such as Dames.
But he conceded that he took no action after it emerged that his special advisor Siyabonga Mahlangu had introduced a dismayed Dames to one of the Gupta brothers, who suggested the family should be favourably considered for coal contracts.
Dames, in testimony before the inquiry in October, said he was not certain which of the brothers it had been, but remembered being told "we have decided we can work with you".
Gigaba said Mahlangu did not act on his instructions and he did not see the need to rebuke him.
He said he did not believe it was fair for Dames to be cornered on what was essentially a decision about coal policy because that belonged with the shareholder and the Eskom board. But, at any rate, he said, the matter went no further because Dames ensured that it did not.
Gigaba, in a submission he read to the inquiry, said he had a good working relationship with Dames, and if he had any concern, "he should have called me".
The minister put himself at a remove from procurement decisions at parastatals, stressing that in all the portfolios he has held, he operated on the understanding that it would be improper to involve himself with tender processes in any way.
"I also don't know who are the members of the bid evaluation committee, bid adjudications committees.... I provide policy direction to the department.... once I get involved I then confuse the roles of the accounting and the executives offices."
Asked by evidence leader Ntuthuzelo Vanara on how he viewed the cost of State capture to the South African economy, Gigaba said it was a proven fact that allegations of corruption and misspending had a direct, swift impact on the economy.
He said he believed his role in stopping a highly controversial joint venture between arms manufacturer Denel and a Gupta linked company, VR Laser Asia, contributed to an upswing in the economy in the first quarter of the year.
"There was a positive sentiment that resulted in the first quarter of the year, the rand strengthening right up to it reaching that psychological mark of R12 to the dollar."
Gigaba was a surprise inclusion in the new Cabinet of President Cyril Ramaphosa, who moved him from the finance ministry to his previous post of home affairs. He served as public enterprises minister between 2010 and 2014.
He has been fending off allegations that during his first stint as home affairs minister he gave the Indian-born Gupta family preferential treatment when they applied for naturalisation.