After another turn in the convoluted explanations of Brian Molefe’s resignation-not-resignation or retirement-not-retirement from Eskom, Molefe himself appeared bewildered, asking the evidence leader in the parliamentary inquiry into the power utility whether it was being implied he’d written two resignation letters. Advocate Ntuthuzelo Vanara coolly replied: “We are trying to get ourselves out of the mist.”
That might be a good rejoinder to any of those being grilled by Parliament, or at least those (and it does seem to be many) who react badly to being questioned in this way. We are trying to establish some facts, the parliamentary representative might reply; we are seeking the truth, the truth about all sorts of self-enriching skullduggery by people looting the state, in fact — a very important issue called state capture.
At the moment, we are still rather in the mist, because so many contradictory accounts have emerged in the course of this vital inquiry that it’s hard not to echo the words of former Eskom board member Venete Klein, who said in her written statement that “there are now differing versions of matters that I previously thought that I fully understood”.
And that’s just about the misleading information presented to (or withheld from) the board about particular transactions in the suspicious Eskom deal with The New Age, then owned by the Guptas.
The hearings, so far, have indeed been a roundabout of accusation and counter-accusation, much denial and much fulmination — Minister Lynne Brown even tried to filibuster the inquiry well ahead of her moment to give evidence. Former Eskom chairperson Zola Tsotsi gave an account of direct Gupta influence on, and meddling with, high-up state appointments that would have manipulated processes at Eskom to their advantage.
Others may have heatedly denied that any such thing took place, but Tsotsi’s testimony accords with the way the Guptas have been described as operating by the likes of Mcebisi Jonas and Vytjie Mentor. As Economic Freedom Fighters MP Floyd Shivambu said, prefacing his view with a quote from the Bible relating to lies: if he had to choose between the evidence given by Tsotsi and the evidence given by Brown, he’d pick Tsotsi’s as being closer to the truth. Eskom board spokesperson Khulani Qoma, meanwhile, stated bluntly that, in his view, Brown “lies all the time”.
So there’s a lot of he-said, she-said going on, which will continue throughout this inquiry. Just trying to work out the facts to do with Molefe’s “retirement” payout from Eskom, the matter of a mere R30‑million, is sufficiently mind-bending — nearly as mind-bending as the simultaneous announcement that he is currently earning R57 000 a month as an “honorary colonel” in the defence force.
Naturally, the tendency is to assume that anything Molefe says is untrue, just as Qoma assumes everything Brown says is lie, but we have to presume that there is some truth in there somewhere, and that the leaders of the inquiry and the MPs involved, by questioning, sifting, comparing and more questioning, can drag something like the truth from the confusing mess.