/ 24 November 2017

More Eskom dirt, but no one’s to blame

Original works by ‘the greatest copperplate technician’
Original works by ‘the greatest copperplate technician’

This week, the parliamentary inquiry into state capture at Eskom heard explosive allegations covering everything from the Guptas’ apparent relationship with President Jacob Zuma and Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown to former Eskom chief executive Brian Molefe’s controversial R30‑million retirement package.

The allegations have been hotly contested, testimony has been contradictory and key roleplayers have passed the proverbial buck.

On Wednesday, former Eskom chairperson Zola Tsotsi directly linked Brown to the Gupta family and Gupta associate Salim Essa — including alleging that she had hosted the Guptas and Essa at her house, which Brown denied.

Tsotsi said it appeared that every decision Brown made followed consultation with Essa or the Guptas.

In previous testimony by Eskom board spokesperson Khulani Qoma, Brown had allegedly stopped the suspension of then acting acting chief executive Matshela Koko, after several calls had been made to inform a “G-brother”, who in turn informed Brown.

In her defence, Brown said that as a minister she would never “hand over [her] functions to anyone else”.

Tsotsi testified that he resigned under duress after four senior executives were suspended in 2015, when the Eskom board challenged his ability to lead, using “trumped-up” and “spurious” charges.

Tsotsi believes that, like another former Eskom chairperson, Ben Ngubane, his resignation had been decided by parties outside Eskom — and probably weeks before he eventually left.

The committee also heard how the Gupta family allegedly threatened Tsotsi, saying they had a very close relationship with “uBaba” (Zuma) after Tsotsi had refused to help them with the appointment and reshuffling of several leaders at Eskom and a tender for the supply of gas to one of the utility’s plants in the Western Cape.

Tsotsi also directly linked Zuma and former SAA chair Dudu Myeni to the suspension of senior executives at the power utility. He said Myeni had asked Tsotsi to meet Zuma at the president’s Durban residence, and it was during this meeting that Myeni told him to suspend group capital executive Dan Marokane and Koko, who headed up the commercial and technology division at the time.

According to Tsotsi, Zuma arrived at the meeting and asked whether Tsotsi “knew who the executives are who were to be suspended”. Tsotsi later presented the names to his board and to Brown, who showed no surprise about the list and supported the suspensions.

Yet, on Tuesday, former Eskom board member Venete Klein said Tsotsi had persuasively argued to suspend the executives. Klein was asked why Koko’s suspension was first blocked, even though he was later suspended, but she was unable to account for the change.

She also said she believed, in hindsight, that Koko may have been the wrong appointment and she also questioned the appointment of Molefe, despite being “awed” by him at first.

But, she said, the board had been fed insufficient and misleading information during the 2014 load-shedding crisis, which prevented it from making the best possible decisions about making purchases and employing individuals.

Klein also alleged that Eskom’s suspended legal head, Suzanne Daniels, who testified two weeks ago, had misled the inquiry by not noting her own involvement in Molefe’s pension saga.

Daniels was responsible for drawing up Molefe’s employment contract, the status of which was used as justification for his lucrative retirement package.

Throughout the proceedings, many witnesses disassociated themselves from the Guptas — denying ever having met them, contacting them or even possessing a cellphone number of anyone associated with them.

Former Eskom board member Viroshini Naidoo testified that she had never met nor been influenced by the Guptas, but admitted that she did know Essa.

According to Naidoo, her husband knew and had contact with the Gupta family, but the couple had never spoken about this relationship.

Adding to the controversy is the allegation that State Security Minister Bongani Bongo tried to bribe advocate Ntuthuzelo Vanara with a blank cheque to step down as head evidence leader at the inquiry. Bongo has not commented on the claim.

The parliamentary committee has called for the Gupta brothers, Essa, Zuma’s son Duduzane, Trillian’s Eric Wood and Myeni to answer allegations of state capture pertaining to Eskom. The inquiry continues.