- The Hawks have launched an investigation to verify allegations that the US conglomerate donated R30m to the DD Mabuza Foundation via Eskom in 2016.
- Eskom contracted GE to build turbines at Kusile and is also the subject of investigations by the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) in the US and the Special Investigating Unit (SIU).
- GE and the DD Mabuza Foundation say the donation was never paid.
A multi-disciplinary investigation by law enforcement agencies in South Africa and the US is probing the "strategic donation" of R30 million by the American multinational General Electric (GE) through Eskom to a foundation registered in the name of Deputy President David Mabuza.
According to documentation unearthed in the Eskom Files - tens of thousands of pages of detailed forensic reports, emails and other documents revealing the scope of corruption at the electricity parastatal - a senior Eskom executive offered the donation to Mabuza's foundation in 2016. This was after a payment of millions of rand was seemingly made by GE to finance part of Eskom's corporate social investment (CSI) programme.
News24 is in possession of a letter in which former senior Eskom executive Frans Sithole tells GE that it would make a "strategic donation to the DD Mabuza Foundation" of R30 million. At the time, Mabuza was Mpumalanga premier and a key member of the so-called "premier league" that lobbied for Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to become ANC president in 2017.
Mabuza switched allegiance to President Cyril Ramaphosa late in 2017, assisting the president to obtain just under 200 more votes at the ANC's Nasrec conference over Dlamini-Zuma. He was sworn in as deputy president in February 2018, despite numerous allegations of corruption having been levelled against him during his term as Mpumalanga premier.
GE has been paid billions of rand by Eskom for major contracts on the Kusile and Medupi power stations, including constructing six turbines at Kusile, for which it has been paid about R17 billion to date. Alstom, that was originally awarded the turbines tender, was acquired by GE in 2015.
News24 understands from two impeccable sources with direct knowledge of unfolding events, that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is investigating GE after it was briefed by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU). The SIU is leading probes into widespread and endemic corruption at all layers of Eskom's business.
The Hawks have also launched a criminal investigation related to the alleged donation.
GE was a principal contractor for turbines during the construction of the Kusile power station in Mpumalanga, one of the biggest coal-fired power stations in the world. It was supposed to have been finished years ago, but is still not complete, with three of the six turbines remaining offline.
Mabuza established the DD Mabuza Foundation in 2014. He was premier of Mpumalanga at the time.
Email correspondence seen by News24 reveal that the Serious Economic Offences Unit (SEOU), a division of the Hawks, initiated the criminal investigation last year after stumbling on to two letters authored by former Eskom executive Sithole in September 2016. Sithole, who has since left Eskom, was project director at Kusile.
In these letters, Sithole thanked GE for pledging money and then asks the Mabuza Foundation how it wanted Eskom to transfer the money. In the letter to GE - thanking the company for agreeing to contribute R100 million - Sithole said Eskom decided to make a "strategic donation" to Mabuza's foundation. He then directs a letter to Mabuza, advising him of Eskom's gift.
A R30m 'strategic donation'
Hawks spokesperson Colonel Katlego Mogale said their inquiry at Eskom had not yet found evidence that the company transferred the money to the foundation.
She, however, added that the investigation was not complete and was ongoing. The SIU's Kaizer Kganyago said it had received information from a whistleblower "relating to the Eskom donation". He did not want to comment further, saying the SIU was in the process of investigating the claims.
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Matshepo Seedat, Mabuza's spokesperson, denied the deputy president received the letter from Sithole. A GE spokesperson told News24 it did not donate to the Mabuza foundation either directly or indirectly. Tebeni Maseko, chief executive of the DD Mabuza Foundation, said the organisation "has never received nor has any knowledge of funds or funding".
The US embassy in Pretoria did not respond to questions sent to it last week. Neither the FBI nor the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), also believed to be probing GE, were willing to comment.
In the first letter, authored on 7 September 2016 and addressed to the general manager of GE in South Africa, Sithole wrote: "It gives me pleasure to acknowledge your pledge to contribute R100 000 000.00 (One hundred million ZAR) to the project's CSI programme. I can assure you that your valuable resources will be used frugally to maximise impact and optimise sustainability of our investment. We would like to draw on this commitment an amount of R30 000 000.00 (Thirty million ZAR) as strategic donation to the DD Mabuza Foundation. The Foundation was launched in 2014 as a youth empowerment vehicle within the Mpumalanga Province."
The foundation focused on financing young people’s education, Sithole explained, adding that "your donation will be acknowledged and can be claimed as a Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment spend in the socio-economic development element of your scorecard."
A week later, on 13 September 2016, Sithole wrote to Mabuza, then premier of Mpumalanga, informing him of Eskom's intention to donate to his foundation. "It delights me to write this letter to the honourable Premier to inform you that Eskom Kusile Power Station will support the DD Mabuza Foundation. As per discussion with the Group Executive - Group Capital Mr Abram Masango, the honourable Premier is kindly requested to offer guidance on how should Eskom proceed with facilitating the donation."
The Hawks notified Eskom in December 2020 that the alleged donation was under investigation and requested the company to provide it with more information. In an email, the Hawks told an Eskom executive: "As you are aware, the Serious Economic Offences Unit has been tasked with investigating Fraud and Corruption with the de-scoping of the ACC (Air-Cooled Condensers) units 4-6 at Kusile..."
"The following documentation has been obtained during the course of the investigation: letter to the former Premier of Mpumalanga from Frans Sithole regarding a donation to be made to the DD Mabuza Foundation and an internal letter written by Frans Sithole to GE, regarding a donation of R30 million to be made to the DD Mabuza Foundation. For the purpose of our investigation, we need to clarify whether the donation of R30 million was indeed made by GE to the DD Mabuza Foundation at the request of Frans Sithole, former Project Director at Kusile."
Mogale confirmed the veracity of the two letters in News24's possession and indicated the Hawks had come across the same documents. "During the investigation it was found that when the downloaded emails were analysed, there were two letters, one of which came from the Project Director of Kusile Power Station Project dated 7 September 2016 addressed to the General Manager, GE South Africa (Pty) Ltd (previously known as Alstom). The other indicates the communications related to the donation," she explained.
Allegations 'blatantly false'
The Mabuza Foundation's Maseko said the deputy president had no knowledge of Sithole's letter. The foundation, she said, had also never received any funding from Eskom's Kusile CSI programme. "The deputy president is indeed very concerned about the blatantly false construct that is evidently designed to create an impression that monies have been siphoned out of Eskom to the foundation."
Law enforcement agencies had not approached the foundation nor Mabuza about the matter, she said.
Seedat said Mabuza never received Sithole's letter.
Sithole, who resigned from Eskom in 2017 said: "I am no longer an employee of Eskom. Please approach Eskom on the questions you have raised. To the best of my recollection, there was no cash payment or cash donation made to the DD Mabuza Foundation. To the best of my recollection GE, including other contractors, supported CSI initiatives such as bursaries for underprivileged students in the province."
A GE spokesman said the company did not commit to or fund the DD Mabuza Foundation. "Let us start by confirming that we did not commit to nor have we ever provided any funding to this foundation. In addition, GE has not directly or indirectly been involved in any activity with this foundation, this includes through Eskom. GE's CSI projects are focused on projects which actively promote skill development through training. Any GE CSI project is subjected to a robust internal governance and compliance process."
Eskom spokesperson Sikonathi Mantshantsha said the power utility had no record of any donation made to the DD Mabuza Foundation.
"Eskom does not have any record of any donations offered or made to the DD Mabuza Foundation. Neither do we have any record of any such donations being solicited by the DD Mabuza Foundation. With regards to GE, it must be noted that the SIU is currently investigating some of the transactions involving the company and Eskom, and as such Eskom is not at liberty to divulge much further information."
GE's turbines contract is the subject of a separate investigation by the SIU. Over and above the turbines and air-cooled condensers (ACC), the company also built a wet flue gas desulphurisation plant (WFGD) at Kusile, which controls the impact of emissions on the environment.
- This investigation is brought to you by News24 in partnership with the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime.