On Monday, former minister of public enterprises Barbara Hogan told the Zondo commission on state capture that former president Jacob Zuma insisted on the appointment of Siyabonga Gama as Transnet group chief executive in 2009.
This was despite a cloud of suspicion, which would eventually lead to his first dismissal, hanging over Gama at the time.
Yet the drama surrounding Gama's appointment, dismissal, reappointment, suspension and latest dismissal spans nearly a decade.
It all started in January 2008 while Gama was still chief executive of Transnet Freight Rail (TFR), an operating division of the larger Transnet structure headed by Maria Ramos at the time.
In January 2008, Hogan approached the Transnet board with allegations of impropriety in a tender of nearly R850m. The tender, referred to as the "50-like-new" tender, involved the provision of 212 used and 50 refurbished locomotives to the parastatal. The investigation regarding these allegations was concluded in May 2008, and recommended disciplinary action against the head of engineering at TFR for their conduct.
But it also came to light during the investigation that Gama signed off on the agreement without adhering to very specific conditions imposed by the Transnet board when authorising him to sign off.
General Nyanda Security Risk Advisory Services contract
Between September 2008 and November 2008, Ramos and the Transnet board received several more tip-offs through Transnet's own tip-off facilities, this time in relation to a securities contract between TFR and General Nyanda Security Risk Advisory Services (Pty) Limited (GNS).
GNS was awarded a nearly R18m contract, despite Gama only being authorised to sign agreements up to R10m. He was also accused of not using an open and transparent bidding process, after having allegedly appointed GNS just days after receiving an unsolicited bid.
The search for Ramos' replacement as group chief executive was well underway when she briefed the board on the allegations against Gama in February 2010. Gama, shortlisted with four other candidates, felt that the allegations were an attempt to scupper his chances at obtaining the role of group chief executive. In particular, he accused his co-contender for the position, Chris Wells, as the driving force behind this. Unbeknownst to Gama at the time, Wells had withdrawn his candidacy for the position some three months earlier.
After Ramos' departure, Wells took over from Ramos as acting chief executive for Transnet until a replacement candidate could be appointed.
The legal back and forth culminated in Gama's (first) dismissal in June 2010. Following a disciplinary hearing, it was found that Gama had not acted within the confines of the board resolution authorising the "50-like-new" tender, and he was sent packing.
Later that year, in October 2010, Hogan was replaced as public enterprises minister by president Jacob Zuma with Malusi Gigaba, halting the recruitment process which at that stage had favoured Telkom's Sipho Maseko. By December 2010, a new list of names was submitted to Gigaba that now included the embattled Gama and the eventually successful applicant, Brian Molefe. Molefe held the reins at Transnet until he was parachuted to the struggling Eskom in 2015, during the height of the loadshedding crisis.
Molefe's departure left the door open for Gama, who reprised his role as Transnet group chief executive.
But then the #GuptaLeaks happened.
- See the #GuptaLeaks site
Gama, Molefe and several Gupta associates were implicated in unlawful conduct in relation to a tender for the procurement of 1 064 locomotives. The contract entailed the purchase of 599 electric locomotives and 465 diesel locomotives from various suppliers.
Documents contained in the #GuptaLeaks, alongside three forensic investigations by law firm Werksmans, Mncedisi Ndlovu and Sedumedi Attorneys and Treasury, implicated Gama, Molefe and the Guptas in a scheme that resulted in billions of rands in kickbacks and underhanded payments.
In light of the allegations, the Transnet board cracked down, issuing letters to Gama and two other executives requiring them to provide reasons why they should not be suspended. Gama claimed that such a suspension would be unlawful, as the reports it would be based on had not yet been concluded.
Earlier this month, the Transnet board fired Gama after it resolved that it had lost trust in him to lead the organisation.
Gama has indicated his intention to challenge the decision.