The Portfolio Committee on Public Enterprises on Wednesday was briefed by the former Chairperson of the Eskom board, Mr. Zola Tsotsi.
Mr. Tsotsi told the Committee that he was called to a meeting by the Minister of Public Enterprises, Ms. Lynne Brown, a day or two before the 2015 State of the Nation Address in February. During this meeting Ms. Brown said she had received complaints from management and board members that Mr. Tsotsi was interfering in management. She asked him to refrain from this, because she would have to find someone else to his job if he did not.
His response was: "Minister, most Board members hardly know what I look like, let alone work with me, as yet. As for management, if scrutinising their decisions and behaviour and calling them to account constitutes interference with management, then I will happily continue doing so. If you had acceded to my request that we have regular briefing sessions, even this meeting would not have been necessary." Mr. Tsotsi said that the Minister responded by saying that if they both did their jobs, there was no reason to talk about anything.
Mr. Tsotsi reported that the same day, Mr. Tony Gupta asked to meet with him. "At the meeting, Tony told me: 'Chairman, you are not helping us with anything. We are the ones who put you in the position you are in. We are the ones who can take you out.' My response was: 'Do what you have to do and let me carry on with the job that Cabinet appointed me to do.' So ended that meeting."
In early March 2015, Mr. Tsotsi told the Committee that the former Chairperson of the South African Airways board, Ms. Dudu Myeni, called him to say that he should make himself available for a meeting with the president, although she declined to discuss any details over the phone. "I arrived at the Durban presidential residence and was met by Ms. Myeni, her son Talent and a certain Mr. Nick Lennell, who was introduced to me as a lawyer. Ms. Myeni then proceeded to outline the purpose of the meeting, namely that the situation of Eskom's financial stress and poor technical performance warrants an inquiry. She further elaborated that in the course of the said enquiry, three executives Tsediso Matona, Dan Marokane and Matshela Koko are to be suspended. I found this matter altogether shocking and proceeded to question the need for suspending these executives, as I saw this as a recipe for inducing instability in the company," said Mr. Tsotsi.
Ms. Myeni believed that the suspension of the executives would not create difficulties, Mr. Tsotsi reported, because they were not accused of wrong-doing, but were being asked to allow space for the enquiry to proceed unencumbered.
Mr. Tsotsi continued: "I convened a board meeting on 9 March 2015 where I presented the proposed resolution. The board expressed its discomfort with this approach and instead proposed that the Minister be invited to engage on this matter with the board."
In a board meeting with the Minister, Mr. Tsotsi claimed, Ms. Brown gave her support for the enquiry and the suspension of the three executives. At a subsequent board meeting, Dr. Ben Ngubane announced that the financial director was also suspended.
Responding to questions from the Committee, Mr.Tsotsi added that he believed pressure must have been applied to make these suspensions happen. He apologised to the four suspended executives, as their careers suffered as a result of the suspensions.
Mr. Tsotsi revealed that Minister Brown invited him to her house for a meeting where Mr. Tony Gupta and Mr. Salim Essa were present. He told the Committee that he was intimidated by the Guptas, because of their close relationship with the president.