Zondo report finds Zuma was 'critical player' in Gupta plot to capture Eskom

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Former president Jacob Zuma.
Former president Jacob Zuma.
Thulie Dlamini, Gallo Images/Sowetan
  • The latest report of the State Capture Inquiry has found that former President Jacob Zuma helped the Gupta family capture power utility Eskom. 
  • Four top Eskom executives, including the utility's then-CEO, were abruptly suspended in early 2015.
  • The suspensions followed a meeting at then-President Zuma's Durban residence. 

The State Capture Inquiry has ruled that former President Jacob Zuma aided the Gupta family in capturing power utility Eskom. 

The fourth part of the inquiry's report, which deals with Eskom, National Treasury, EOH Holdings and a Free State asbestos project, was handed over to President Cyril Ramaphosa by the inquiry's secretary, Professor Itumeleng Mosala, on Friday morning.  

It found that the Gupta family orchestrated the sudden suspensions of Eskom's top leadership in 2015, so that their "associates" Brian Molefe and Anoj Singh could be parachuted in to strategic positions at the utility. 

Four senior executives were suspended by Eskom's board on March 12, 2015. The power utility's CEO Tshediso Matona, its finance director Tsholofelo Molefe, group capital executive Dan Marokane and technology and commercial executive, Matshela Koko, were ostensibly placed on suspension so that a hastily-arranged probe into the power utility could take place without any potential hindrance. 

The report found that the suspensions were organised by the Guptas, "their associates" and former President Jacob Zuma.

"The suspension of these executives was a crucial step to pave the way for the captureof Eskom by the Guptas."

"The aim of the suspension of the executives was, except with regard to one executive, namely Mr Koko, to remove persons who occupied certain strategic positions at Eskom who the Guptas did not think would co-operate with them in their agenda to capture Eskom," the report said. 

The suspensions 

While all four officials were later cleared of wrongdoing, only Koko returned to Eskom. The report found that the Guptas intended for Koko to return to Eskom and to "pretend" the suspension took him by surprise. Koko has previously denied any wrongdoing.After the senior executives were suspended, Molefe and Singh joined the power utility.

READ | Five years on, former Eskom CEO still in the dark about abrupt suspension

The report found that Zuma, whose name is mentioned over 150 times in the section of the report dealing with Eskom, interfered in the running of the affairs of the power utility's board board by ordering that a crucial meeting be postponed. Chief Justice Raymond Zondo described his order to have the meeting postponed as "unlawful".

"In calling both the Acting Director-General and the Chairperson of the Eskom Board to secure the postponement of the meeting of the Eskom, President Zuma interfered in the running of the affairs of the Board of Eskom. That was unlawful because he had no power to decide when the Board could hold its meetings nor had he any power to dictate what matters the Board could discuss or not discuss in any of its meetings."

According to Zondo, the postponement gave the Gupta family more time to enact their plan to capture the utility by getting rid of Eskom's top leadership. 

"President Zuma’s interference in the affairs of the Board marked the beginning of the implementation of the Gupta’s plan to capture Eskom and President Zuma was a critical player in that plan. After the postponement of the board meeting scheduled for 26 February 2015, a series of meetings aimed at facilitating the capture of Eskom by the Guptas were held."

"Later events suggest that the Guptas probably did not want certain matters to be discussed and decided by the Board while the Chairperson of the Board was [Zola] Tsotsi because they must have felt that he was nolonger co-operating with them. They wanted to have Tsotsi removed first and their own associate, Dr [Ben] Ngubane, to be appointed as Chairperson of the Board."

Zondo said that Zuma appears to have been central to the Gupta's state capture plans from the outset. 

"The Guptas must have identified [Zuma] at a very early stage as somebody whose character was such that they could use him against the people of South Africa,his own country and his own government to advance their own business interests."

Meeting at Zuma's Durban residence 

In late 2020, the inquiry heard that the hastily arranged "probe" into the four executives was conceived at a meeting held at Zuma's Durban residence on 8 March 2015 - just days before the suspensions took place. The meeting was attended by, among others, former SAA chair Dudu Myeni, business consultant Nick Linnell and the power utility's then-chairperson, Tsotsi. 

Witnesses gave differing testimony about Zuma's role in the meeting. While Myeni said he only exchanged greetings with those present, Tsotsi said Zuma attended the full meeting. 

The report found that Myeni's version of events was "utterly dishonest and intended to try and protect Mr Zuma".

"Myeni did not provide any sound reason or explanation as to why the Durban meeting was held at President Zuma’s residence if it had nothing to do with him," it said. 

'Less confidence'

A week after the suspensions of  the four top executives took place, Standard & Poor's downgraded Eskom's credit rating, saying the suspensions had "led us to have less confidence in the company's corporate governance arrangement".

READ | Abrupt suspension of Eskom's financial director in 2015 rattled investors, says ex-chair

Tsotsi, meanwhile, told the commission in September 2020 he believed the Gupta family had orchestrated the expulsion of Eskom's top management.

"Knowing the appetite of the Guptas for [the] 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," he said. 

 - Additional reporting by Sibongile Khumalo. This article has been updated to reflect that the report stated Zuma was a "critical player". A previous version stated that he was a "crucial player". 

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