Former Minister Lynne Brown played a key role and helped the Guptas manipulate the board of Eskom so that the Guptas could hijack this state entity in 2015.
This was the testimony of Zola Tsotsi, former chairperson of the Eskom board, on Wednesday before the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture in another day of explosive testimony about how the Guptas allegedly went about hijacking Eskom.
Tsotsi – as with his previous testimony before the commission in January this year – maintained there was a meeting at Brown’s home where Tony Gupta and his alleged accomplice, Salim Essa, were also present. Brown, at that time the Minister of Public Enterprises, on the occasion gave Tsotsi a list of who would serve on the new Eskom board and in which subcommittees, he testified.
According to Tsotsi, the exact list was sent to him by Essa with an instruction that it is the people who should propose Tsotsi as the committee members. However, Tsotsi forwarded his own list, after which he and Brown, according to his testimony, bumped heads.
Their quarrels over the composition of the board’s committees resulted in Brown telling him to come to her house where Gupta and Essa were present, according to Tsotsi. This is where he apparently received the assignment again on what Eskom’s board committees should look like.
These events to appoint a board that would probably play after the Guptas, as well as the subsequent suspension of four Eskom management members (including the then CEO Tshediso Matona and the finance chief Tsholofelo Molefe) to presumably make way for Brian Molefe and Anoj Singh – who allegedly collaborated with the Gupas – in early 2015.
Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, chairman of the commission, said that if he had to make a final decision on the hijacking of state entities, he would consider the evidence on Transnet along with the evidence on Eskom.
The Guptas were probably ready to hijack Transnet and strip assets there in early 2015.
The next step could be to move on to Eskom, hijack the board and management of this state entity and continue their raid there, according to Zondo.
Tsotsi testified Wednesday his first meeting with Essa was at a breakfast run by the Guptas’ The New Age newspaper. The second time was when the newly appointed Eskom board had to be divided into subcommittees.
According to him, Essa emailed him a list of how the division should be. Tsotsi ignored Essa’s list and, in his capacity as chairman of the board, sent his own choices to the board.
“The minister (Brown) sent me a list. It was the same list as that of Essa. “The list went back and forth between us until she called me into the meeting where Essa and Tony Gupta were present,” Tsotsi testified.
Zondo pointed out that according to the e-mails, the Guptas had a say in the composition of the Eskom board.
Tsotsi testified that he knew the Guptas had a hand in what was going on at Eskom.
“It is my impression that the management of Eskom has been replaced with people who have ties to the Guptas. “One can draw the conclusion and connect the dots,” said Tsotsi.
Tsotsi himself was suspended on March 30, 2015 as chairman of the board.
Adv. Pule Seleka SC, interrogator of the commission, stated that Brown argued in an affidavit to the commission that she had never seen the list that Tsotsi was talking about. She denies that Tony or Essa met at her home. She explained how she compiled the list of the Eskom board’s audit committee and ethics committee.
Seleka put it to Tsotsi there are some strange issues. When he received the list from Essa, Tsotsi did not report it to the Eskom board, or express his concern about it. Brown also argues that Tsotsi did not show her the Essa list nor the list he says he proposed.
Tsotsi replied he did not have much to say about this, but he hoped the truth would one day come out about what really happened.
Zondo told Tsotsi he would have to say in his testimony whether he maintained that his version was the truth, or that he was not sure.
According to Tsotsi, he is absolutely certain that he did communicate with Brown about the list. She was in Mozambique on holiday and this information was mentioned to him by Essa, he would not have known it otherwise, he testified.
Zondo asked again, “So you sent your list, she sent back her own list (which matched the one from Essa) and she said you should use her list and not yours?”
To this Tsotsi answered “yes”. He later said in his testimony that the more he thinks about what happened, not just at Eskom, and because he knows what the Guptas’ appetite is for acquiring whatever assets, the clearer it becomes that they wanted people in Eskom organization instead that could serve their direct interests.
Zondo said this a month later, after Eskom’s executive management was suspended, Brown announced that Molefe would be seconded from Transnet to become the new CEO of Eskom. Not long after that, Singh was also appointed to a key position at Eskom.
“There are all sorts of allegations and evidence before the commission about the roles they played in Transnet that led to a variety of transactions. If I find that they collaborated with the Guptas or as followers of the Guptas at Transnet, it could be that the Guptas were satisfied with what they achieved at Transnet and wanted to move on to Eskom. And they needed people they could trust, ”Zondo said.
First, the Eskom board or the majority of the board is hijacked and after that it could be part of their plan to get rid of the executive management, according to Zondo. He said it was on these matters that he would make a decision in his final finding.
• Brown is an ANC politician who was the Premier of the Western Cape from 25 July 2008 to 6 May 2009. She was the Minister of Public Enterprises from 25 May 2014 to 27 February 2018.