Brian Molefe has told the state capture commission it was a mere coincidence that the New Age newspaper and Gupta associates knew beforehand that he would be appointed as CEO of Transnet and later again as Eskom boss.
The former parastatal’s chief executive said he was not a corruption detecting machine as he continued to testify at the commission led by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo.
On his role as former group CEO of Transnet between February 2011 to April 2015, Molefe told the commission that he was later seconded to Eskom until he was permanently employed there in September 2015.
“In fact, my salary in my bank account was paid by Transnet and Transnet was reimbursed by Eskom,” said Molefe.
He was questioned on his affidavit dated January 20 this year which was entered into the proceedings as an exhibit.
Evidence leader Advocate Anton Myburgh asked Molefe whether, given him being highly qualified and experienced, he was ideally placed to detect any form of corruption within Transnet.
Molefe said the fact that he is highly qualified did not make him a corruption detector or a corruption detecting machine.
“I was definitely not a corruption detecting machine but that does not mean if I saw corruption, I could not see it, understand it or I was incapable of understanding it. So, it is not being able or unable to detect it.”
“All am saying is that I am not a specialist corruption detection machine as you [Myburgh] might be,” said Molefe.
The exchanges between Molefe and the evidence leader was off to a flying start, with the latter pressing the former on whether he had detected any corruption under his watch at Transnet.
Molefe said there were incidents of corruption and ill-discipline that were dealt with while he was there.
He was then asked about an article that appeared in the New Age newspaper on December 7 2010 in its second issue where it published that Molefe was set to become the new CEO of Transnet.
The Gupta-owned New Age newspaper was first published on December 6 2010. Molefe told the commission he was in New York at the time the story was published and did not even know where the journalists got their story from.
He responded that he did not know the structural ownership of the New Age newspaper when it was put to him that it was owned by the Gupta family.
The New Age reported that it had it on good authority that Molefe would be appointed as the new boss at Transnet.
At the time it had been about six months since Molefe had left the Public Investment Corporation (PIC), as its chief executive officer when the New Age “predicted” he would be appointed as CEO of the board of Transnet.
He told the commission he was a reservist at the South Africa Defence Force before being employed at Transnet.
“I didn’t know anything about this. Interestingly [chair] when I went to check I was in fact overseas in New York at the time when this was published and by the date of this newspaper article I had actually been there [in New York] for a few days. Maybe over a week. It was at the tail end of my trip to the United States,” Molefe told the commission.
He said he was contacted at the time by a New Age newspaper journalist via text while he was still overseas, asking him whether he knew anything about his imminent appointment as Transnet CEO.
Molefe said he responded that he had not been informed and knew nothing of that sort as no one told him about it.
“Chairperson, even now I get all sorts of questions from the media about all sorts of incidents that I don’t know anything about, and my answer is very short: I don’t know, I can’t comment.”
“There have been lots of incidents if you go through the media where I have no comment to make because, in fact the media was wrong and there was nothing like that,” he said.
Molefe was eventually appointed as the CEO of Transnet a couple of months after the New Age reported he would be.
Asked by Myburgh if he ever reflected back once he was finally appointed as Transnet CEO, that somebody else knew this before him, Molefe said, no, he didn’t.
“Why is it difficult for you to think that I could not have taken that article seriously? And I didn’t,” said Molefe responding to Myburgh’s question.
Judge Zondo asked Molefe if he didn’t connect the article and the appointment, to which Molefe responded: “No, I didn’t chair. Actually, I had probably even forgotten about the article because it’s something that happened [when] I was literally in New York and I got to hear that they say that I am going to be appointed Transnet CEO. I didn’t know anything about it. Nobody had said anything to me about it and I dismissed it. And later on, I didn’t link the article to my appointment.”
On how he become GCEO of Transnet, Molefe told the commission that he was contacted by a headhunter named Brian Khumalo in January 2011 who gave him a call and said Transnet were looking for a group chief executive officer and asked him whether he was interested in the job.
He thought about the offer for a day or two before calling Khumalo back, saying: “Let’s give it a shot.”
He then submitted his CV to him [Khumalo], and he received a call a few days later to arrange an interview with members of the Transnet board.
The commission also dealt with Molefe’s appointment as CEO of Eskom, which also seemed to have been predicted.
Myburgh put it to Molefe that he was an associate of the Guptas and dealt with them directly without a middleman.
Molefe admitted, saying he knew the Guptas and that when there was a need they did speak to him directly.
He was asked if it was another coincidence that there was a prediction that he was told he was going to be CEO of Transnet which turned out correct, and then again told he was going to be the next CEO of Eskom which again happened.
He responded: “Perhaps. Perhaps a coincidence. I really can’t comment on it. I don’t know if it was a coincidence [or not]. I don’t know what it was. But it is something I am not aware of. I can’t comment,” he said.