South Africa

DAYS OF ZONDO

Former chairman testifies Dudu Myeni told him how to fix Eskom

Former Eskom board chairperson Zola Tsotsi testifies at the Zondo Commission in Johannesburg on 8 September 2020. (Photo: Gallo Images / Papi Morake)

Former Eskom chairperson Zola Tsotsi has elaborated on how the SOE’s board approved a proposal to suspend four executives in 2015, essentially handing power to Dudu Myeni, Jacob Zuma and the Guptas. On Wednesday, he is likely to have to explain any contradictions in his testimony.

Zola Tsotsi, who served as Eskom chairperson from 2011 to 2015, could face tough questions as he continues his testimony on Wednesday at the Zondo Commission of Inquiry, after evidence leaders revealed they have audio recordings of the board meeting that approved a controversial inquiry and suspended four executives in 2015.

Tsotsi returned to the commission on Tuesday and elaborated on the evidence he presented at the 2017 parliamentary inquiry into Eskom, where he revealed that the proposal to launch the inquiry and suspend executives came out of a meeting with SAA chairperson Dudu Myeni and Jacob Zuma at the former president’s Durban residence.

Tsotsi was testifying a day after former Eskom CEO Tshediso Matona explained how he was sidelined in the move, one in a series that ultimately benefited businesses linked to the Gupta family.

On the eve of a board meeting on 26 February 2015, Zuma called Tsotsi to tell him the meeting would be postponed. The board had recently been stacked with Gupta associates and it was due to meet for the first time.

The then president said he could not reach Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown or her deputy. The acting public enterprises director-general, Matsietsi Mokholo, later called Tsotsi, saying Brown had requested the postponement.

It was an unprecedented request for the chairman, who, wrongly, thought the minister could postpone board meetings. The chairperson thought it was “rather strange and rather sinister” but he complied, without asking for an explanation.

“It looks like they just expected the board to just fall in line,” said Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo.

On 7 March 2015, Tsotsi received a call from Myeni. She said Zuma wanted to meet him at the presidential residence in Durban the next day. There, Tsotsi found Myeni with her son Thalente and consultant Nick Linnell, who had worked closely with Myeni. Jabu Maswanganyi has said he was also there but Tsotsi can’t remember seeing him.

Before meeting Zuma, Myeni explained that Eskom was underperforming and executives were failing to update the government’s energy “war room”, led by then deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa, accurately and timeously.

She proposed launching an inquiry into Eskom’s failures and suspending three top executives: CEO Tshediso Matona, head of capital projects Dan Marokane and head of technology and commercial Matshela Koko.

When the meeting with Zuma began, the president asked in isiZulu, “What are we talking about today?”

Zuma’s odd introduction was a sticking point for Zondo who wondered who had orchestrated the plan, Zuma, Myeni or outsiders. Tsotsi believed Zuma and Myeni were exponents of a plan hatched elsewhere.

“After all, we haven’t heard from the original architects, in my view,” he told Zondo.

Tsotsi said he was in a “state of semi-shock the whole time” as he listened to Myeni tell him what was wrong with Eskom and how to fix it.

He claimed he argued that suspending the executives was premature as they weren’t facing any specific allegations, but he took the proposals, including a proposed board memorandum and resolutions Linnell emailed to him, to an Eskom board meeting hurriedly set up for 9 March 2015.

The board decided to consider the proposals and reconvened on 11 March. This time Minister Lynne Brown was in attendance. Tsotsi said he had believed the executives could continue working while the inquiry began, but he agreed with the board that they could impede the investigation and should be suspended.

Brown supported the suspensions, according to Tsotsi, and added another name to the list that Myeni provided – financial director Tsholofelo Molefe.

The new board hadn’t met Eskom’s executive before the 11 March meeting and hadn’t told the CEO, who was blindsided, about the supposed lack of updates to the war room. Tsotsi said that concern was actually due to a lack of technical expertise in the war room.

Zondo questioned how the board could take advice from Myeni and Linnell and “just run with the idea”.

The former chairperson was surprised when evidence leader advocate Pule Seleka revealed that the commission had recordings of the board meeting, minus the part while Brown was there.

The recordings will be aired as Tsotsi continues to testify on Wednesday, but a snippet revealed at least one board member expressed reservations with the plan to suspend the executives.

The suggested influence of the Gupta family hung over Tuesday’s hearings. Tsotsi said he’d met the brothers three times at their Saxonwold home and once at the offices of Sahara Computers. He said Tony Gupta had made multiple inquiries and requests, asking for information on a gas contract and trying to get someone appointed as Eskom’s procurement manager, but Tsotsi couldn’t help.

Tony Gupta was visibly angry, according to Tsotsi, when he told him he could not obstruct an inquiry into Eskom’s deal with The New Age newspaper.

“It was common knowledge amongst the government officials and people who had reason to interact with them that they certainly had the attention of the president and were close enough to the president to threaten people with ‘Baba’, as they call him,” said Tsotsi.

“They did the same to me at some point. I suppose they felt if they had that kind of leverage with the president, they could demand whatever they want to be done and that it be done or else there might be consequences. That was common knowledge.”

Tsotsi resigned at the end of March 2015, claiming he was pushed out. Ben Ngubane became Eskom chairperson while Brian Molefe had replaced Matona as CEO.

Tsotsi will continue his testimony on Wednesday before Eskom’s former head of legal and compliance Venete Klein is due to appear. DM

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  • Hey Greg, after Pres. Zuma asked a question in isiZulu did he receive a reply in isiNgisi (English) ?
    Please note the correct word in English, for the Zulu language, is just that…. Zulu, not isiZulu.