Acting Eskom board chairperson Zethembe Khoza’s appearance before the parliamentary inquiry into the power utility raised more questions than it provided answers.
Khoza couldn’t remember much, denied a lot and deflected on some questions, saying he would have to refer back to Eskom documents.
In a 200-minute cross examination by the inquiry’s evidence leader, Ntuthuzelo Vanara, Khoza revealed that Eskom suspended three senior executives, including its then chief executive officer Tshediso Matona, to face charges.
The suspension of the executive officers is believed to have contributed to the downgrading of the power utility that followed shortly in 2015.
Khoza’s version is in contradiction to those given by other board members who appeared before the inquiry who said the executives were suspended from their positions despite no evidence of wrongdoing, but that Eskom wanted to hold an inquiry into its problems.
Khoza insisted that there were charges but he couldn’t remember what exactly those charges were. He said the board had been persuaded by then board chairperson, Zola Tsotsi, that there were charges in the pipeline.
Vanara repeatedly pointed out to Khoza that he was the only one who knew about these charges as a number of other witnesses had said there was no wrongdoing.
He also reminded Khoza that when Matona challenged his suspension in the Labour Court, Eskom never stated in its responding papers that there were charges against Matona.
Khoza blamed this on oversight by the company’s lawyers. Two weeks ago, Tsotsi told the inquiry that he was instructed by former South African Airways chairperson, Dudu Myeni, to remove the three executive managers.
This, Myeni did in Zuma’s presence at Zuma’s Durban residence, according to Tsotsi. He suggested that Zuma and Myeni had wanted appointees who were more amenable to the president.
Two weeks later, the presidency has not denied Tsotsi’s allegations.
In his submission on Tuesday night, Khoza alluded to Zuma’s alleged involvement in the removal of the Eskom executives.
He revealed that at an urgently convened board meeting in March 2015, Tsotsi reported to the board that “the presidency” had expressed concern that the impact of Eskom and the power outages on the country was being understated.
“It was felt that the board should get to the bottom of matters and establish the exact causes of the problems so that it could take decisive action. Mr Tsotsi said that he had been requested to ask the board to authorise an independent external enquiry.”
Board members raised a number of objections to matters discussed in the said meeting as ... others felt that there were insufficient facts placed before the board to make such a far-reaching decision.
Members also felt that if, as the chairperson said, this was a request from the presidency, it should simply have been a directive to the board from the presidency or the shareholder representative in which case the resolution should state that the enquiry was a request from the presidency.
Tsotsi had allegedly highlighted the fact that he believed it was necessary for the employees to step aside.
This as board members raised a question regarding what impact it would have on the operations of the business given issues of continuity.
“Some board members still wanted a fact finding exercise to be undertaken before actual suspensions were implemented as this would be necessary to avoid acting against possibly innocent executives. In response to these concerns, Mr Tsotsi suggested that some of the executives were involved in wrongdoing ...” said Khoza.
Khoza said contrary to suggestions made in the media and in the inquiry, Eskom’s downgrade was not solely based on the suspensions of the four executives but that the suspensions were one of the reasons cited by Standard and Poor’s.
Khoza’s testimony continues in Parliament on Wednesday morning.