I chose Eskom over Optimum – Brian Molefe

Isaac Mahlangu Senior reporter
Brian Molefe at the State Capture Commission of Inquiry
Brian Molefe at the State Capture Commission of Inquiry
Image: Veli Nhlapo

Former Eskom chief executive Brian Molefe tore into Optimum Coal Mine for allegedly using its “good relationship” with then deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa to play state-owned entities for its benefit.

Molefe, who’s testifying at the State Capture Commission of Inquiry, on Tuesday said while he was at Transnet when the entity bought 100 locomotives to service the coal industry, Optimun was the only company that  refused to sign a "take and pay" agreement, alleging that it was unable to do so as it was waiting for another agreement to be reached with Eskom.

Molefe said after he pushed Optimun to sign the deal with Transnet in March 2015, he was seconded to take over at Eskom a month later. After being privy to the negotiations that the company had with the power utility he realised that Optimum had been using Eskom’s name to play Transnet and vice versa.

“I realised that they [Optimum] were playing us [Transnet] using Eskom’s name…because they had a good relationship with then deputy president [Ramaphosa],” Molefe said.

During his previous appearance at the commission, Molefe  blamed Ramaphosa’s business dealings with Eskom as being responsible for load-shedding.

Molefe said Ramaphosa was brought into the fold by mining giant Glencore when it bought Optimum because it wanted a political heavyweight that would help it renegotiate its price per ton agreement  with Eskom.

Ramaphosa has previously denied Molefe's accusations related to exerting political pressure on the power utility’s bosses. The president said: "There is a lot of untruth in saying I got shares to advance the interests of Glencore." He said he would have his own opportunity to go and testify before the commission.

Molefe said his attitude towards Optimum when it negotiated for a new price, which he refused to approve, was influenced by among others that he “knew too much”.

Eskom’s management is accused of playing a role in ensuring that Optimum was sold to the Gupta family in 2015.

Molefe said he had two choices – to either sink Eskom and save Optimum, and he chose to save the power utility.

“I had no obligation to take Optimum out of bankruptcy… we might have saved Optimum but we would have bankrupted Eskom,” Molefe said.

The Gupta family eventually purchased the Optimum coal mine from Glencore after the multinational mining company  allegedly caved under pressure from Eskom and the department of mineral resources.

Former Glencore chief executive Clinton Ephron  told the state capture inquiry that there had been several attempts by the Gupta family to buy Optimum mine, which had a contract to supply coal to Eskom's Hendrina power station in Mpumalanga.

The offers eventually culminated in a meeting in Zurich, Switzerland, in December 2015. The meeting was allegedly facilitated by then mineral resources minister Mosebenzi Zwane.

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