- Eskom's former chairperson, Zola Tsotsi, continued to give evidence before the commission of inquiry into state capture on Wednesday.
- Tsotsi said the suspension of four senior board members in 2015 may have been a Gupta ploy to "have people in the organisation who would serve their direct interests".
- After the four were suspended, Brian Molefe and Anoj Singh joined the power utility.
The suspension and ultimate departure of top Eskom executives in 2015 could have been a ploy by the Guptas to replace key officials at the top of the company with acolytes who would serve their interests, according to the power utility's former Chairperson Zola Tsotsi.
Tsotsi speaking for a second day before the commission of inquiry into state capture on Wednesday.
On March 12, 2015, Eskom's board abruptly announced that four executives - CEO Tshediso Matona, finance director Tsholofelo Molefe, group capital executive Dan Marokane and technology and commercial executive Matshela Koko - had been suspended so that an inquiry into the power utility could take place without any potential hindrance.
The probe into the power utility was initially brought up in a meeting held by former SAA chairperson Dudu Myeni at ex-President Jacob Zuma's residence in Durban on 8 March, said Tsotsi - just days before the suspensions took place.
The decision to conduct the investigation and suspend the four top officials was supported by then-Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown, said Tsotsi. But the reasons behind the suspensions have been unclear.
On Wednesday, the inquiry - which is probing allegations of corruption into state entities - again sought to understand why the four were abruptly suspended by the utility's newly appointed board, despite there being no evidence of wrongdoing on their part.
In his attempted to justify the purge, Tsotsi blamed the Guptas' influence for the dismissals.
"Knowing the appetite of the Guptas for acquisition of whatever assets they could lay their hands on, and having seen that at Eskom, I came to the conclusion that they wanted to have people in the organisation who would serve their direct interests , so that it would be easier for them to capture Eskom," said Tsotsi.
"That was, and is still is the analysis that I ended up with by looking at what was going on."
Matona, the most senior of the four, challenged his suspension but eventually parted ways with the power utility in May 2015. On Monday he told the commission that no one had explained why he needed to be suspended.
Ex-Transnet CEO Brian Molefe was in April seconded to replace Matona. Anoj Singh was subsequently appointed chief financial officer.
Deputy Judge President Raymond Zondo, who is heading the inquiry, noted that "allegations" had been levelled against Singh and Molefe in evidence presented by other witnesses, relating to their alleged dealing with the Guptas during their time at Transnet and Eskom.
Zondo said that, if in the end it is established that the two former executives cooperated with the controversial family or their associates, "then they may well be a possibility that the Guptas had dealt with Transnet to their satisfaction and now wanted to move on to Eskom".
"When all evidence is in....I must see whether there is proper evidence to make a finding, but it is a possibility. It may well be that it's the Guptas and their associates who were responsible for this whole idea of an inquiry that Ms Myeni mentioned at the Durban meeting," said Zondo.
Tsotsi, who appeared before the inquiry once before in January, said Brown exerted influence over the board, including the selection of its committee members, which was outside her powers.
He said prior to the selection of committee members in December 2014, a Gupta associate, Salim Essa, had sent him a list of candidates to be considered for various committees, which he ignored and went on the compile his own and forwarded to Brown.
However, Brown overlooked his composition and in turn furnished him with a list that resembled the one submitted by Essa.
In her affidavit to the commission, Brown denied receiving a board committees list from Tsotsi and blamed him for not reporting being approached by Essa with his nominations.
She said it was curious that Tsotsi never reported receiving a letter from Essa to anyone and never raised his concerns with the Eskom board, as you expect a "conscientious chairperson to do".
Tsotsi insisted that she did send the minister his list in December of 2015 while she was away on holiday in Mozambique.
"I am perfectly clear that I did communicate with the minister.... it was mid-December, how I learnt she was on vacation is because Salim Essa told me that. I am very clear that I did communicate with her, there is no doubt in my mind whatsoever," said Tsotsi.
"Clearly she is denying that she ever communicate with me about this list," said Tsotsi.
Zondo pressed Tsotsi to clearly state his position on the matter and why he allowed Brown to to be involved in the board's duties.
Tsotsi stated that he had struggled to build a good working relationship with Brown and that allowing her to have her way with the board would help prevent further weakening of relations.
"At the back of mind I thought that maybe if I let this go, it would be a way to try and improve the relationship with her" as it was important to maintain a good relationship with the shareholder.
He concluded that with hindsight, he took that Brown may have been "acting at the behest of someone else".