Former Eskom board chairperson Zola Tsotsi became the first witness this morning to directly implicate President Jacob Zuma for interference at Eskom as he revealed a plot to remove Eskom executives and replace them with those amenable to the president and his clique.
Tsotsi suggested that Zuma was behind the suspension of four senior Eskom executives in March 2015 – which ended in his [Tsotsi’s] own resignation about 10 days later. The former Eskom director painted a picture of a coordinated attempt to control Eskom. This attempt involved Zuma, Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown, Dudu Myeni and the Gupta brothers and started shortly after Brown took office in 2014.
Tsotsi told the inquiry that he had sought to cultivate a working relationship with Brown following her appointment in May 2014, but did not succeed. Brown had called him to a meeting a day or two before the February 2015 state of the nation address, and allegedly told him about complaints from other board members and management that he was interfering in management. He allegedly dismissed this saying “most board members hardly know what I look like, let alone having worked with me yet”.
As for management, he was scrutinising their decisions and behaviour which, he argued, was part of his job. Tsotsi claimed that after a brief exchange about their working relationship, Brown warned him to “go and do what you have to do, I will go and do what I have to. There is no reason for you and me to talk about anything”.
Tsotsi told spellbound MPs that the very same afternoon he was approached by Tony Gupta, who requested to meet with him. At the meeting, Gupta told him: “Chairman, you are not helping us with anything. We are the ones who put you in the position you are in. We are the ones who can take you out.”
“It was at this time that I felt that some sinister clouds were gathering because the coincidence of the two events was not lost on me,” he noted.
A few days later, and on the eve of the Eskom board’s first meeting in February 2015, Tsotsi received a call from Zuma, who told him that he could not get hold of Brown nor her deputy.
“The president then informed me that the board meeting would not be taking place and that the acting director-general would call me to ask me to postpone it.”
The call from the director-general came but the reasons for the postponement of the meeting were not forthcoming.
Hardly a week later, Tsotsi received a call from Dudu Myeni, telling him to avail himself for an audience with Zuma. She wouldn’t discuss the details of the meeting over the phone, he said.
The meeting took place at Zuma’s Durban residence. On his arrival, Tsotsi was met by Myeni and her son Talente and a Nick Lennell, who was introduced to him as a lawyer, he said.
Tsotsi claimed that Myeni proceeded to outline the purpose of the meeting, namely, that the situation of Eskom’s financial stress and poor technical performance warrants that an inquiry into the company be instituted.
“She elaborated that – in the course of the said inquiry – three executives, namely acting chief executive Tsediso Matona, group executive for group capital Dan Marokane and group executive for commercial Matshela Koko, were to be suspended,” he said.
Tsotsi claimed that, after a short discussion where he protested against Myeni’s proposal and she was motivating for it, Zuma emerged and asked “what was up for discussion”.
“The president then enquired if I knew who the executives are who were to be suspended…”
Tsotsi claimed that Myeni had stated that Lennell had assisted her with a similar situation at SAA and was being made available to assist him.
After meetings, one with the Eskom board and another with Brown and the board, four executives were suspended on March 12 2015 pending an inquiry.
Tsotsi himself resigned on March 23 the same year, under duress, as board members accused him of not consulting them on the inquiry into the executives and of being unfit to be a director of the company.
The inquiry continues and Brown is expected to appear later today.