Parliament’s inquiry into state capture at Eskom took a break this week.
It provided much-needed respite following weeks of, at times, shocking testimony from whistle-blowers, former Eskom executives and a Cabinet minister.
But even as the committee takes a breather there are further claims of intimidation against its members.
This week, the interim chair, Zukiswa Rantho, told the Sowetan that members of her family had been intimidated. The Democratic Alliance’s Natasha Mazzone said her office had been burgled and that a vehicle had been broken into and committee documents tampered with.
These incidents followed inquiry evidence leader Ntuthuzelo Vanara’s affidavit that State Security Minister Bongani Bongo had attempted to bribe him in order to halt the inquiry.
According to some who have already testified under oath or affirmation, corruption and capture have eaten away at the state-owned entity.
Mosilo Mothepu, the former chief executive of financial advisory firm Trillian‚ described how Eskom executives Brian Molefe and Anoj Singh used the utility as a “cash cow”.
Former Eskom chief executive Brian Dames detailed how he was introduced to a Gupta brother who wanted to discuss coal contracts — infuriating him — but he denied that he had engaged with the Guptas.
Eskom board spokesperson Khulani Qoma described how he was tasked with rebuilding Eskom’s public image and reputation — but found the task near impossible because, he said, too many people there were compromised. He laid the blame at the feet of Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown.
“The problem here is the minister. She lies and she lies,” he said, to stunned silence.
But this was only to be the curtain-raiser for what was to come.
Former Eskom chairperson Zola Tsotsi sent jaws dropping when he said there was “clear collusion between Brown and the Gupta brothers”.
Tsotsi claimed he was summoned to Brown’s home, where he was met by Tony Gupta and family business associate Salim Essa, who tried to meddle in Eskom board affairs.
Brown vehemently denied the allegations. During her eight-hour-plus testimony, she maintained she was not captured and that — although she knew of the Gupta family — she had never met them. She had earlier warned the committee that the inquiry should not devolve into a kangaroo court, saying that all claims made should be tested, and that those implicated should be given the right to reply.
The minister’s role is interesting and puzzling. She was one of the first members of President Jacob Zuma’s Cabinet to support former public protector Thuli Madonsela’s State of Capture report recommendation that a judicial commission of inquiry be formed to probe these high-level corruption allegations.
Yet her name seems to sink further and further into the mud as she becomes tarred with the Gupta brush.
On top of Tsotsi’s testimony, the #GuptaLeaks emails show her personal assistant was treated by the Guptas to a trip to Dubai. They also reveal how an acquaintance of hers (Brown refuses to detail the nature of the relationship) apparently benefited from an Eskom coal contract. This the minister also denies, arguing that a contract was never awarded.
During an especially tense and often sarcastic exchange with her former Cabinet colleague — and now ANC backbencher — Pravin Gordhan, refereed by Rhanto, the inquiry’s ANC chair, one could easily imagine this to be a foretaste of the ANC’s national conference in December.
It’s known that Gordhan and Brown are on opposite sides of the ANC factional spectrum.
This schism in the ANC played itself out again when the DA called for a debate on state capture in the National Assembly on Tuesday.
Just a day before, five ANC MPs called a press conference, albeit with only one media organisation present — the Gupta-linked ANN7 — to allege that ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu had colluded with the DA.
So, what’s next?
The Eskom probe committee is mulling over which witnesses to call next. Possible testimony by the Gupta brothers, Duduzane Zuma and perhaps even President Jacob Zuma himself, would be unprecedented.
The committee has been loath to release the names of witnesses in advance. The first reason is to not create too much fanfare. The second is safety.
From next week, three straight days have been set aside for interviewing witnesses.
One MP on the committee warns to “watch for something big”. A Gupta brother, maybe?
Calls for an extension to the committee’s work this year may also strike a chord with many MPs.
Parliament’s December constituency period, which in effect means “summer holidays”, starts on December 6 — days before the ANC’s elective conference in Johannesburg.
What is unclear is whether the party’s caucus will still be given the political mandate to fight state capture if that task is directed by a Nksosazana Dlamini-Zuma slate — or whether Cyril Ramaphosa would want to let sleeping dogs lie for the sake of unity as the battle to win the 2019 general election intensifies.
• Meanwhile, this week amaBhugane reported that Gupta-linked Tegeta was reneging on its contract to supply coal to Eskom’s Hendrina power plant, placing the 2 000MW station in peril.
Tegeta, co-owned by the Guptas, Essa and Duduzane Zuma, allegedly threatened to cut off supply as it sought to renegotiate its contract with Eskom. Tegeta was already supplying significantly less coal than agreed, with suggestions that it was selling the resource to overseas markets.
Lester Kiewit is a parliamentary reporter for eNCA