Bizarre case of Mark Pamensky the Gupta appointee to Eskom’s board

Evidence of the State Capture modus operandi is rapidly emerging after the bombshells dropped by Vytjie Mentor and Mcebisi Jonas. Both claim to have been offered promotions into key Ministerial posts, provided they fulfilled conditions demanded by the Gupta family. It is whispered within the ANC as many as half President Jacob Zuma’s cabinet were appointed in this way. First to come into spotlight is Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown whose replacement of all but one member of the Eskom board fits snugly into the Gupta State Capture theory. Particularly as the new board’s only white South African, 42 year old Mark Pamensky, also serves on the Gupta mothership’s directorate, and is the family’s partner in property developments. One can only imagine the outrage were a director of another major Eskom supplier like Glencore or Exxaro appointed to the parastal’s board. Especially at a time when concluding the R2bn acquisition of Optimum Coal, whose survival depends on the purchaser’s ability to negotiate a better price from Eskom. Pamensky is the smoking gun for those investigating how the Guptas used political connections to extract profit from the public purse. The way the ruling ANC uses this information will tell us much about its true intentions towards eradicating the Zupta network of patronage. – Alec Hogg

By Alec Hogg

It’s common knowledge that SA’s sole electricity provider is in deep trouble. Not as well known is of the 13 people charged with fixing Eskom, only one member of the board – Dr Pat Naidoo – is an electrical engineer. Even more bizarre, though, is the story behind the only white South African director, 42 year old chartered accountant Mark Pamensky. With three other CAs on Eskom’s board, and a huge pool of experienced engineers and directors to choose from, his appointment makes no sense. Even less when you discover Pamensky is also a director of the Gupta mothership company Oakbay, whose recently expanded coal operations have a single major client – Eskom.

A metal sculpture stands outside the headquarters for Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd., South Africa’s state-owned electricity utility at Megawatt Park in Sandton, near Johannesburg, South Africa. Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg
A metal sculpture stands outside the headquarters for Eskom at Megawatt Park in Sandton, near Johannesburg, South Africa. Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg

As curious, the Eskom website describes Pamensky as Group Operations Officer of Blue Label Telecoms. He isn’t. Yet there is no mention of him being a director at Oakbay, which he is. Oakbay’s own biographies of its directors describes Pamensky as “currently employed” as Blue Label’s COO, a position he resigned from last November. His appointment at Oakbay is itself strange. Again, with a huge pool of mining professionals to choose from, why would a resources business add another bean counter with no rock digging experience?

Blue Label’s co-CEO Brett Levy confirmed that Pamensky tendered his resignation in November: “It came out of the blue. It was like my wife of 20 years saying she was leaving me. Pamensky was 100% involved in the professional and private lives of me and my brother (co-CEO Mark Levy). I was the best man at his wedding two years ago; he was a trustee of our private trusts; we shared everything together.”

Pamensky’s appointment to the Eskom directorate came soon after the May 2014 installation of new Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown. At the time, Levy said, the Blue Label team were supportive as they regarded it as recognition for the company. He admitted that with hindsight he should have reflected on why Pamensky was selected ahead of thousands of more suitable candidates. Or how Eskom’s director search processes would have uncovered someone who wasn’t exactly seeking out other directorships. But Brown’s letter of invitation was duly circulated and Blue Label board granted approval.

Levy says this process was very different to Pamensky’s appointment to the Gupta’s Oakbay board: “We only found out about it after the fact, about four months later. I was totally against this appointment and recommended he withdraw. I warned him his commitment to Oakbay could not take up any Blue Label time. Quite honestly I just didn’t want to know anything about his involvement with the Guptas.”

When Pamensky announced he was leaving Blue Label after almost two decades, he said it was to start his own business in property development. Levy says only later did the truth emerge that Pamensky had become a fully fledged business partner of the Gupta family.  After being told of the misrepresentation of his former COO’s bios on the Eskom and Oakbay websites, Levy sent an email demanding it be corrected: “We really don’t want Blue Label to be dragged into any association with the Guptas.”

Pamensky is the most obvious Gupta nominee, but it is instructive that of 14 Eskom directors listed in the 2014 annual report, only one – Ms Chwayita Mabude – has survived since Lynne Brown was elevated into Zuma’s cabinet.

The board’s racial composition has also altered dramatically. The 2014 board comprised 12 africans; one white and one coloured. The current board has 5 africans; 5 indians (including two women in their early 30s); 1 coloured; 1 foreigner and Pamensky.

If the ANC is serious about investigating “State Capture”, there are few better places to start than understanding why such radical changes were made to the Eskom directorate. In the context of Guptagate and the Optimum Coal scandal, calling in Pamensky would be instructive. Ditto Lynne Brown.

Eskom directorate 2014 Eskom directorate 2015
name age name age
Mr Zola Tsotsi – chairman 67 Dr Baldwin Ngubane – chairman 73
Mr Collin Matjila 52 Mr Brian Molefe – CEO 48
Ms Tsholofelo Molefe 45 Mr Anoj Singh 42
Mr Brian Dames – CEO 48 Mr Romeo Khumalo 43
Dr Bernie Fanaroff 66 Ms Venete Klein 56
Ms Queendy Gungubele 55 Dr Pat Naidoo 55
Ms Neo Lesela 44 Ms Miriam Cassim 33
Ms Bajabulile Luthuli 41 Mr Zethembe Khoza 57
Ms Chwayita Mabude 44 Ms Chwayita Mabude 45
Ms Yasmin Masithela 40 Mr Mark Pamensky 42
Dr Boni Mehlomakulu 41 Ms Nazia Carrim 34
Mr Mafika Mkwanazi 60 Mr Giovanni Leonardi 54
Ms Phenyane Sedibe 44 Ms Viroshini Naidoo 42
Ms Lily Zondo 45
Black African 5
Black African 12 Indian 5
White 1 White 1
Coloured 1 Coloured 1
Foreign 1
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