Zondo ‘concerned’ Guptas knew in advance about Zola Tsotsi's ousting from Eskom

State capture inquiry hears Gupta associates Nazeem Howa and Salim Essa knew 11 days before that Eskom board chair would be gone

Mawande AmaShabalala Political journalist
Ben Ngubane, former chair of the Eskom board, testified at the state capture inquiry on Tuesday.
Ben Ngubane, former chair of the Eskom board, testified at the state capture inquiry on Tuesday.
Image: Freddy Mavunda

The state capture inquiry's chair, deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo, says it is “concerning” that Gupta associates Nazeem Howa and Salim Essa knew 11 days before the act that Eskom board chairperson Zola Tsotsi was going to be removed.

This is after Tsotsi’s successor, Dr Ben Ngubane, gave evidence on Tuesday about events leading to Tsotsi’s removal on March 30 2015.

The inquiry heard how Howa and Essa knew this on March 19, and had prepared a press statement that would be issued to announce Tsotsi’s removal. The revelation emerged through email exchanges that show the duo were already speaking about Tsotsi’s removal 11 days before it happened.

On March 30, Tsotsi was forced to resign after his Eskom board colleagues threatened to vote him out, but he asked them not to in an attempt to protect his reputation. The board agreed provided he resign, which he did.

Zondo expressed shock that Eskom outsiders had intimate details of internal happenings at the power utility, even well before they took place. This, he said, would suggest they might have been behind such developments.

“That raises a concern if somebody told Mr Howa in advance what the board was going to decide. Who was that? And did she or he know the board would make those decisions?” said Zondo.

“It is possible somebody who may have wanted the board to make the decision to remove Mr Tsotsi as chairperson might have gone around to canvass support from board members, and told Mr Howa this is what the board will decide.

“That would be very concerning if somebody from within the board tells people outside of Eskom about decisions likely to be made by the board.

“It is even more worrying if the position is that Mr Howa and Mr Essa were making decisions outside of Eskom that they wanted the board to take, and they had an expectation the board would take those decisions. That would mean the board is not acting independently but is manipulated by people outside.”

The inquiry heard the final statement about Tsotsi’s sacking, issued on March 31, was also shared with Tony Gupta.

Ngubane said he was no one’s “puppet” and he personally had nothing to do with the circulation of the press statement to Tony Gupta, Howa and Essa.

Evidence leader advocate Pule Seleka made a proposition that it was Ngubane who shared information with Essa about Eskom affairs. Seleka supported his proposition with the fact that an info portal e-mail belonging to Essa sent several e-mails to Ngubane. 

“When someone appears at the inquiry, whatever is said becomes the living truth in the public. So your proposition is a dangerous proposition and therefore I reject it,” said a visibly upset Ngubane.

Testimony is ongoing.

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