Then deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa recommended the appointment of former Eskom CEO Brian Molefe’s to his predecessor Jacob Zuma.
Ramaphosa revealed this on Wednesday in his testimony at the state capture commission. The revelation brings into question the testimony of former public enterprise minister Lynne Brown that Zuma recommended Molefe for the Eskom job.
But Advocate Pule Seleka, the Zondo commission’s evidence leader, asked Ramaphosa if it was possible Zuma had relayed Ramaphosa’s recommendation to Brown, which he said it was a possibility.
Ramaphosa said he recommended Molefe to Zuma because he had proved himself as an effective CEO. He said he had worked closely with Molefe at the SA Special Risk Insurance Association.
Molefe’s appointment, Ramaphosa said, was meant to deal with the “confusion” at Eskom at the time due to many “entry points” which included the inter-ministerial committee and a technical team – dubbed the war room.
“I felt we’re messing things up, we had too many entry points,” he said.
Ramaphosa believed Molefe was capable to steer Eskom in the right direction: “We needed an effective CEO who would grab Eskom by the scruff of the neck.”
He said he was surprised when Molefe was linked to the Guptas in the report compiled by former Public Protector Advocate Thuli Madonsela. “I was concerned that somebody I held in high regard was entangled with the family.”
‘I shouldn’t say I’m shocked’
When the commission’s lead evidence leader Advocate Anton Myburg probed Ramaphosa about whether he knew Molefe had ties with the Guptas before his secondment as CEO for Eskom, the president said he was not aware of that relationship.
Myburg then cited former deputy finance minister, Mcebisi Jonas’s testimony about the Guptas working with politically protected people and that Molefe was among those.
Ramaphosa said he only knew about this when it was revealed at the commission.
“Maybe I should not say I’m shocked [or this is shocking] ... It’s quite frightening and very concerning because chairperson this is what we want to not expect in a democracy ... positions used by people who want to extract rands ... it’s something deeply concerning. It should not be allowed to happen,” Ramaphosa said.
‘I met the Guptas’
He said he had met the family “soon” after the ANC’s 53rd elective conference held in Mangaung in the Free State in 2012 where he was elected as the ANC’s deputy president at that conference.
Ramaphosa met the Guptas again at the ANC headquarters at Luthuli House where their private jet landing at Waterkloof airbase was discussed. He said he considered the Guptas as the friends of Zuma.
Removal of Eskom executives
Seleka asked Ramaphosa if he was aware of a meeting in March 2015 where Zuma met with former SAA chairperson Dudu Myeni, considered Zuma’s proxy and former Eskom chairperson Zola Tsotsi where a plan was hatched to establish an inquiry at Eskom and suspend executives.
Ramaphosa said he was not aware of the meeting, including the discussion and decisions taken there. He was surprised he was not brought into the loop.
Asked by Seleka if Zuma informed him about the suspensions, Ramaphosa said there was “really no direct” discussion about it.
He was also not involved in the exit negotiations of those executives.
Asked if the removal of executives opened a way for the Guptas sympathisers to get into Eskom, Ramaphosa said he was not aware of that either.
“I was exasperated...[I wanted to] close loopholes and not have too many fingers [in the pie] at Eskom. I must say I wasn’t alive in [the] bringing in [of] the Gupta linked people,” he said.
‘Conflict of interest’
Ramaphosa denied any conflict of interest and interference at Eskom. In his opening statement, he said when he joined government he had cut ties with several companies he held shares in, including Glencore and Optimum Holdings, the owners of Optimum mine.
He denied former Eskom’s group CEO Matshela Koko’s allegations that he had a hand in his dismissal. Ramaphosa said at the time Eskom was in a severe crisis.
A decision to change the board and executive was taken at a meeting between himself, Zuma, Brown and former finance minister Malusi Gigaba to avert a national disaster on January 19 2018. He said it was incorrect that Koko’s removal was an executive overreach.
Prasa ‘left’ to fail
Advocate Vas Soni, the commission’s evidence leader, then grilled Ramaphosa about allegations made by Popo Molefe, Prasa's former board chairperson, that the ANC top six failed to support him in his efforts to clean up the entity.
Molefe had asked the top six to intervene following allegations of corruption and the failure to appoint a CEO for the entity.
Soni said Molefe characterised the situation in such a way that there were those in the ANC who “did nothing”, “sided [with]” and “refused to act” when it came to state capture allegations.
He said Molefe was also concerned about Madonsela’s findings that former Transnet CEO Lucky Montana had refused to cooperate with her investigation and the allegations that millions were paid to the ANC as a donation.
Ramaphosa disputed claims that the Transnet board was allowed to collapse. He said Molefe was disingenuous in his claims that he was not supported. Molefe, Ramaphosa said, had the power to act at Transnet.
However, Ramaphosa acknowledged that at the time there were “system failures” in ANC and the Cabinet. “We should have been more alert [and] active in enforcing accountability,” he said after the commission’s chairperson Raymond Zondo put to him that the failures at Transnet were a result of appointments made by the ANC government.