Former minister is accused of forcing Glencore to sell mine to Gupta-linked Tegeta

Zondo grills Zwane about his silence on Essa's role on Swiss trip

Siviwe Feketha Political reporter
FILE IMAGE: Mosebenzi Zwane testifies before the Zondo Commission on October 12, 2020 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
FILE IMAGE: Mosebenzi Zwane testifies before the Zondo Commission on October 12, 2020 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Image: Gallo Images/Papi Morake

Former mineral resources minister Mosebenzi Zwane was grilled on why he had failed to dispute allegations that he had introduced Gupta associate Salim Essa as his adviser when he flew to Switzerland 2015 to discuss the possible sale of Glencore’s Optimum Coal Mine to the controversial family.

Zwane returned to the stand at the Zondo commission into state capture on Tuesday where his Switzerland trip and meeting with Glencore chief executive Ivan Glasenberg came under the spotlight.

Zwane had denied allegations that he tried to strong-arm Glencore to sell Optimum to Gupta-linked Tegeta, insisting that the discussion of the possible sale was aimed at saving jobs of the mine, which was then under business rescue.

In his affidavit before the commission, Glasenberg told the commission that Zwane was accompanied by Essa at the meeting and that he had introduced him as his advisor.

While Zwane told the inquiry that he had in fact introduced him as an advisor to Tegeta, commission chairperson, deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo, quizzed him on why he had not denied the allegation as false in his supplementary affidavit to the commission.

“Why didn’t you say this is not true. Why didn’t you say when Mr Glasenberg says in his affidavit you introduced Mr Salim Essa as your advisor it is not true and that the position is that you introduced him as Tegeta’s advisor?”  Zondo asked.

Zwane is accused of having been behind the pressure that was allegedly put on Glencore to sell Optimum to Tegeta for R2.1bn before the Guptas and their associates used it to loot Eskom, including through a dodgy R600m prepayment in 2016 for the supply of coal.

Zwane, who has been fingered in a number of allegations as a key enabler of state capture, told the inquiry he had planned to be short in his responses to the commission to save its time and that he had planned to answer the allegation in person.

Zondo said Zwane’s failure to address the allegation he had brought Essa as his adviser despite being afforded an opportunity had given the impression that he had no issue with the allegation and that he had no answer to it.

Zondo also asked Zwane why he had told Glencore that he was sure they could reach a deal with the Guptas, even though he did not openly ask them to sell Optimum to Tegeta.

Zwane said: "I thought I was providing leadership."

Zondo also put Zwane on the spot on why he had to go to the Switzerland meeting if his intention was not to apply political pressure on Glencore, as he had no substantive contribution in the discussions between Essa and Glanesnberg and the final deal which saw Optimum being sold to the Guptas.

Zondo said this was similar to other evidence given by various witnesses before the commission who had detailed the former president Jacob Zuma’s son, Duduzane, had allegedly played a similar role in meetings between them and Gupta brother, Tony where Zuma Junior would just be present to no substantive contribution “to apply subtle pressure” on them.

The inquiry continues, with Zwane also expected to answer allegations that he had facilitated the looting of the Vrede dairy farm projected in which millions of rand were swindled by the Guptas to pay for their lavish wedding at Sun City in 2013.

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