Axed execs ‘pushed’ to take millions of rands in exit packages, says former ‘Gupta’ Eskom chair

Former acting Eskom chair and board member Zethembe Khoza says four executives who were suspended by Eskom in 2015 were awarded exit packages amounting to R18m despite them wanting to return to the company.

At the time, former president Jacob Zuma had ordered an independent inquiry on the performance of Eskom. The power utility had battled to upgrade ageing plants at the same time as building new generation. The utility connected the first unit of its Medupi coal-fired station on March 2 in 2015, eight years after construction began.

According to former Eskom chairperson Zola Tsotsi, he was given instructions by ‘Mr Fix It’ Nick Linell and ex-SAA chairperson Dudu Myeni on how he should suspend four Eskom executives, including group CEO Tshediso Matona, Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Tsholofelo Molefe, group capital head Dan Marokane and Matshela Koko, who was head of technology. Myeni led the meeting which was attended by her son, Thalente, and a man named Jabu Maswanganyi.

“I attended a meeting in Durban on Sunday, 8 March 2015. When I arrived at the residence, Mr Tsotsi and Dudu Myeni were there. In attendance was also Ms Myeni’s son and another person introduced as Jabu. At that time, I knew nothing about Jabu’s role at large. While Ms Myeni’s son played no active role in the meeting, Jabu provided information on the state of Eskom, including allegations of wrongdoing and reasons for business failure – some of which was in the public domain,” Linnell wrote in an affidavit to the Zondo Commission.

After the suspensions, Brian Molefe was appointed Eskom CEO in a move which was welcomed at first. Later, Molefe would be regarded as having laid the groundwork for the Gupta family to win contracts worth millions.

According to Khoza, his version of how the suspensions occurred are that former Minister of Public Enterprises Lynne Brown called for an inquiry to voice her concerns with the parastatal. The issues were namely financial, load shedding and procurement.

Khoza also told the Zondo Commission that he wasn’t aware the executives would be suspended. However, reports claimed that Khoza, alongside Mark Pamensky, Anoj Singh, and Venete Jarlene Klein were Gupta appointees who would do the Guptas’ bidding and, essentially, knew the executives would be suspended.

Khoza also stands accused of contacting a Gupta brother – who then called Brown, who in turn got in touch with Dr Ben Ngubane.

Romeo Kumalo. Photo from Khoza denies calling one of the Guptas. He also denies dealing with Gupta lieutenant Salim Essa.

“Brown mentioned that having an inquiry would be seen to be credible,” said Khoza.

Once the executives were on suspension, they received full pay and benefits. A total of R18m was spent on negotiating exit packages. According to Khoza, the executives told him they wanted to leave as their names had been damaged. A separation agreement was done via round-robin and the settlement agreed upon.

When Judge Ray Zondo asked why then-CFO Tsholofelo Molefe was not allowed to return, Khoza says it was because Romeo Kumalo led the exit agreements and told her the inquiry would take long. Kumalo served on the Eskom board for 14 months before stepping down in April 2016. According to Business Tech, Kumalo was linked to Gupta-partner Salim Essa on March 24.

“Essa was also a co-director with Eskom board member Romeo Kumalo in the company Ujiri Mining, until Essa’s resignation in August 2015,” it reported.

Kumalo is said to have marched Molefe towards accepting a settlement even though she insisted she wanted her job back. Khoza also added that the executives had no disputes with Eskom and the board still needed their expertise.

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Watch Zethembe Khoza give his testimony at the Zondo Commission below: