JOHANNESBURG — Former Eskom board member, Viroshini Naidoo, has come out to deny news reports that have linked her to the controversial Gupta family. Previous reports have highlighted how Naidoo was on the Eskom board while her husband, Kuben Moodley, was allegedly doing business with the Guptas. Former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, in her State of Capture Report, said that Moodley’s company Albatine had contributed R10m to the Guptas’ purchase of Optimum Coal. Naidoo also worked for Albatine – an issue highlighted by Thuli Madonsela in the State of Capture report. On top of this, Naidoo’s husband was also an advisor, for a brief period, to Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane. But Naidoo denies any wrongdoing or a conflict of interest. She also goes on to say that she intensively questioned Eskom’s deal to give Gupta-owned Tegeta a controversial prepayment for coal just before an urgent late-night board meeting on the matter was called by Eskom. In this interview, Naidoo gives her side of the story, and she also explains why she complained to the Press Ombudsman about the coverage surrounding her. – Gareth van Zyl
Viroshini, before we go into the reports that you’ve complained about with the Press Ombuds, can you maybe just go back to the start for me. So, who are you? How did you find yourself on the Eskom board? If you can just explain.
Okay so, I’m an attorney. I’m a practicing lawyer for about 20 years. I used to be in private practice and then I moved into corporate. I’ve been in corporate for over 10 years. I applied for a position on the Eskom board and got appointed in December 2014. At the time, I was working as the head of legal for Mpact, it used to be a division of Mondi, and because of the volume of work, I then resigned from Mpact, which was the end of March 2015.
I then stayed on as an Eskom board member until July 2016. My experience, I was legal counsel at Telkom. I was legal counsel at Bytes]. I was head of legal at American Tower and as I said, my last corporate role was head of legal of Mpact so, I was their Group legal counsel. As an Eskom board member, initially I sat on Social and Ethics. I sat on the New Build Committee, and I sat on Audit and Risk. Then on the main board, I think it was in July 2015, when the chairman reshuffled us and then I was appointed to the tender board. I continued to be on Audit and Risk, and I chaired New Build. I was no longer on Social and Ethics.
Can you tell me when it was exactly when you were appointed to the board, what was the date?
I don’t know the exact date but from my recollection and the fact that I’ve obviously, got the minutes of those meetings it was in July 2015, until I Ieft which was 1 July 2016, was my last day.
Let’s get back to the complaints that you’ve issued. You’ve gone to the Press Ombudsman. Can you tell us why?
The article in the BizNews website said I was a Gupta-link and a Gupta… Well, it was related to an article in the Business Day that said that, ‘Gupta allies were appointed to the Eskom board by Malusi Gigaba and specifically it said, I was appointed in November 2011. Those facts are incorrect. I was appointed December 2014, and by Lynne Brown so, I think in my complaint I attached the Minister’s letter.
So, firstly the facts they were incorrect and the most important thing is that I am not a Gupta-link or a Gupta-ally. I didn’t do anything there as an Eskom board member for their benefit. Whatever I did was for the benefit of Eskom and the State Capture Report, which came out in November 2016, said, it referred to an article that was written by amaBhungane in March 2016. Stating that a whole lot of board members at Eskom and Transnet were linked to the Guptas. Then it obviously had an organogram that linked us. It linked me via my husband, who was a friend of Salim Essa, who is an associate of theirs.
So, when this article came out I was an Eskom board member and I heard of it through the Eskom secretary. The journalist, Mr Sole, never contacted me. Then the company secretary at Eskom advised us that we were not supposed to contact the newspaper directly or respond to any of the questions and that Minister Brown was going to do it, which Minister Brown did. She responded to the questions that were put forward. Her reply didn’t deal with all of us or whatever. It was just dealt with as a general thing that these members were appointed to the board because of their qualifications and stuff.
Anyway, the article was very detrimental and that is why I decided to leave Eskom. Then I discussed with Dr Ben that I wanted to resign, and he suggested I wait for…
This is now Dr Ben Ngubane?
Ngubane, who was the chairman at the time. That I should leave in July because we were having our AGM and it was going to be a reshuffle and I must wait till then. So, that was fine. I sent my notice to the Minister advising her that I was leaving and the time, and I explained to her the reasons. The article was just terrible. For me, whatever we did, moving forward there, we were doomed. We were going to be linked to these people. I should have left earlier but anyway, so I left.
I didn’t hear from Eskom until the day before Thuli Madonsela left office. I think it was the 12th October, if I recall. It was Thuli Madonsela’s last day that Friday, which could have been the 13th. I got a call at about 20h00 that evening, from the company’s secretary at Eskom, to say, ‘can she call me?’ She sent me a WhatsApp. I said, ‘give me a few minutes, I’m putting my kids to bed, call me.’ Then she did and she said, ‘it’s concerning the State of Capture Report.’ I said, ‘what has that got to do with me? I am no longer part of Eskom.’ She said, ‘well, I’m sending you the documentation and I need your response.’
She sent me the documentation. I literally opened it on my phone. The documentation was a Notice that the Public Protector had sent to Eskom a week prior. It was dated the 4th October 2015. It was addressed to Dr Ben (Ngubane). It was the Notice in terms of Section 7. Section 7 of her Act says, ‘you must advise the other side if there’s allegations in the report.’ I only got this on the 12th October, at about 20h00 that night, and the report became final the next day. Eskom had already responded to the report on my behalf without ever consulting me. The report refers to the article, to say I’m the sole counsel regarding the Ngubane article. Then it makes mention that my husband was a director with Mr Mark Pamensky in a company and that my husband was an advisor to Minister Mosebenzi Zwane.
My husband was appointed by Minister Zwane in October 2015, to March 2016, for 6 months. That’s all he spoke of. Eskom didn’t deal directly with those issues. She also sent me the response they gave. So, what I did was, when I opened this on my phone I immediately thought of Blue Label. It said BLT, I think it said so, I thought it was Blue Label and I phoned my husband and he said, ‘he’s never been a shareholder of this company.’ So, I immediately called them back and said, ‘my husband has never been a shareholder of Blue Label.’
So, they got their lawyers on a teleconference and then they amended and did an amendment letter. They sent a reply but it was an interim reply, and the interim reply didn’t deal with all these things. This was their preliminary reply so, this came then they sent this, (they sent it the night before). So, I then said, ‘no, my husband has never been a shareholder.’ They sent a covering page or something. The next day when I opened it I realised it’s not Blue Label it’s BLT so, my husband said, ‘he was never a shareholder with Mr Pamensky in this company at the same time.’ That he resigned and then Mr Pamensky became a shareholder, I think I’ve attached it to the complaint. Right, you can see it there so, I don’t need to show you that.
By then, when they did that, it was too late, it was Thuli Madonsela’s last day and that afternoon she declared that this report is final. So, I then got a lawyer, which was Thomson Wilks, Stephen Thomson. He and I met on the Monday, which was after the Friday. Then he drafted a letter to her, in response to this Notice and we only dealt with the stuff that she put in this Notice. Nowhere in this Notice did she say that my husband contributed to the shares of Tegeta. Do you understand, this Notice dated the 4th October? She doesn’t mention it so I didn’t even know anything about this.
And then he responded, I think this was part of the documents that you got, the letter from Thomson Wilks.
Right, and it shows and it proves all of these things and whatever, and it also listed what transpired because all of the allegations were based around what transpired on the night of the prepayments. So, he dealt with it that it was a meeting that was done on telecon. It was done very late at night. We had got a request for a meeting, and then I sent a whole lot of questions to the company’s secretary. Well, the Public Protector didn’t even look at this letter. She just simply replied to say that her predecessor had made the report final. She can’t get involved.
I have never met the Public Protector. I’ve never spoken to her. I didn’t understand…
So you contacted the current Public Protector (Busisiwe Mkhwebane) to complain?
Yes. Busisiwe, and she just sent a letter to my lawyer to simply say, ‘that she can’t meet with me simply because the report is final.’ I’m in that kind of position right now and all I can do now is wait for the Judicial Inquiry, which to be honest, at that time I thought it would be in a month or two. It’s now gone almost a year.
Couldn’t she also take the report on review, seeing as you’re mentioned in it?
No, you cannot and I’ll tell you why. This is the report, the Public Protector’s Report. So, Eskom got a few opinions and then I also went to a few lawyers to get various opinions and they all come back with the same. This is the whole report. If you look at the report, the second last paragraph of the report, (sorry, I’ve printed it on one side and I should have done it on double sides). Right, it’s the second last paragraph.
Okay, this is Eskom’s response that they sent to her, she attached it to her report. So, if you print a copy of her report you’ll actually see Eskom’s response and you’ll see they didn’t deal with the details of the report. They didn’t care, okay so, this is her report. ‘Evidence implicating Eskom’ paragraph 21. It’s called ‘Observations.’ Then right after that she made her recommendations so, you can’t take a report based on observations on review, what are you going to overturn?
Okay so, basically when she was talking about that potential conflict of interest that she mentioned…
Yes, that my husband contributed to the shares of Tegeta, or the company that I was employed by.
…so, she now made that as observations, not findings?
Absolutely. She didn’t make no findings. That’s why my advice, and Eskom got the same advice as well, was that we can’t take this up on review. We have to wait for the Judicial Inquiry, which I wasn’t really worried about but I just wanted it to happen quicker. I mean a year, if I tell you my life. It’s unbelievable how people have read this and perceived this, including yourself and other journalists, as findings and I’ve never been contacted by her. Section 7 is absolutely clear. If you’re going to make an allegation against somebody you need to give the person an opportunity to come forward and explain themselves. I was never given that opportunity, both by her and Eskom, with due respect because they knew about it a week prior. They should have contacted me immediately.
Why didn’t Eskom contact you immediately?
They said, ‘they had made the decision not to because they didn’t think it was relevant and that she wasn’t going to make a final.’ That was for me to decide. I don’t understand how their [Eskom’s] lawyer was acting on my behalf.
How does that make you feel? Surely, shouldn’t you be taking on Eskom as well?
Absolutely, of course but what am I going to do? There’s nothing I can do.
You can’t sue them?
For not giving you the notice the day that it was issued to them?
If I’m going to do that I’m going to need money to sue these people. In terms of my fiduciary duties as an Eskom board member, they’re entitled to pay my legal fees. Right now, it’s almost impossible to get legal fees paid. I’m sitting here, with you, without a lawyer. I did the whole Press Ombudsman stuff without a lawyer.
But obviously with your legal background it helped you?
Yes, it assisted me a lot. I’m sure my other colleagues are forced to… Anyway so, let’s go to what the whole, main purpose was. What happened on the night of the prepayment? This is a copy of the document that was sent to all of us calling for the meeting. As you can see, the date is 11 April.
This is something that you sent to me as well?
Yes so, it was at 20h15, and you can read it. It’s by the company’s secretary requesting us to have a telecon on the basis of the supply of call to Arnot.
Okay, and Arnot is obviously an Eskom coal powered plant?
Correct. Look, you can see they’re saying, ‘this is urgent.’ And if it’s a late meeting its normally followed up by a phone call to say, ‘did you look at your emails?’ We did have Eskom emails but I wouldn’t really use it. It’s your private email, and you’d just check so, you’re aware that there’s a meeting.
So, your other email is like a personal Gmail?
I’m just looking at the time stamp on this so, this now says, 20h17 and they’re asking you to be on a meeting at 21h00. Can you run through what happened?
I had to firstly open the stuff and then start reading the submissions because you’ve got to make a call. I’m not stupid. Everything that came to me I would read it. I made it my duty to always read the stuff and I had to read the stuff and then immediately I sent questions to the company’s secretary. I’ve just noticed the submission is not here. While we do this, I’ll maybe look at it. Then I sent an email to her replying, which is at 20h53. You can see that’s the company’s secretary. Well, she’s not the company sec now, she’s the head of legal. Then these are the questions I asked her.
Has the metadata on these emails have been verified? Are you prepared to take this to a court of law?
Will they dispute it? No, they won’t dispute it and I’ll tell you why. Why they can’t dispute it is…
So, are you prepared to put these emails through a forensic test?
Yes. That they are my emails? Yes, because Gareth, one second. Do you mean they could come and say it’s not my email?
Okay, that’s interesting. No one has ever said that.
There’s a lot of people disputing the nature of emails today, right.
Oh, all right. I totally understand what you’re saying. Well, that’s not going to be possible in my situation because this is the copy of the minutes of that particular meeting. If you look at, okay so this is the submission so, it’s a summary of the submission. If you go through this you’ll see the majority of my questions are here, that basically formulated the minutes and this has been signed off.
All right could you make a copy for me as well?
Yes, this has been signed off by… This would be, I think, in the first submission, yes because that’s part of my submission to the Public Protector.
So you fired all these questions to them?
This is a very short time span here. You get the email just after 20h00 and then they want to have a teleconference call.
But it was obvious. It was stuff that always happened and then you can see while we were on the meeting I’m asking more questions. Then I was also very upset about the meeting being late so, I then wrote to the acting chairperson of tender saying, ‘I’m not happy with these late meetings because obviously I need time to apply my mind.’
You’re saying that you questioned the board?
Of course, you had to question everything.
And the other board members, did they ask similar questions?
I think everybody did ask questions. One person even asked, and the threshold for the board Tender Committee was R750m, and this was below our threshold and it came by us. So, the question is, ‘why is this coming via us, it’s below our threshold? This could have been resolved by management.’ There was no reason for it and the explanation was that because there was a session involving this matter that’s why this came but it still didn’t make sense. Do you understand? It was a totally, different commercial transaction but anyway.
This was now supposed to be for the prepaid coal?
Correct, exactly. In hindsight when I had my first meeting with, I think it was with ‘The Financial Mail’ I’m still saying it was for coal. Somebody there, I think it was my lawyer that pointed it out to me that there was a letter given by the business rescue practitioner to the Hawks saying they never received the money. Up until then, I’m still convinced that they used the money to buy coal. Even if you look at the questions, I did ask. I said, ‘is the money going to go to the business rescue practitioner? If the money does go to the rescue practitioner, do we have the chance of losing it?’ I was assured no.
After you posed all these questions, can you tell me what happened then?
Basically, on the telecon I was made and given assurance that it was urgent. We needed this coal and if we don’t we won’t be able to run Arnot and the feel was we’d probably go into load shedding, and I didn’t want to be the person to put us into load shedding. By then we were almost a year without load shedding so, I understood the crisis. From the time we got appointed, till then it was always putting out fires.
Can you tell me who said that it would start load shedding? Can you mention any names?
It was a telecom. I was not in the presence of people. You can see from my email, even at the end, I sent a letter to Dr Zethembe to ask, ‘who was on the call and who was the executive on the call?’ So, I honestly cannot say that but I can tell you, I was still sceptical, I really was and I think the reason behind all my questions was we were at the time, going to NERSA for an increase, and I just couldn’t understand. We’re awaiting NERSA, we’ve applied for an increase, and why are we prepaying somebody? All the money we needed, we were waiting for handouts from the DPE. It just didn’t make commercial sense and for me, that is where I saw it. Commercially this, from my experience as a lawyer, especially Eskom. You are one of the biggest purchasers of coal. You should be on the front end of purchase in the sense that you should dictate, Eskom should dictate the price. The contractual details of a contract because you have that power, and I just couldn’t understand. We were always on like the begging streak. It just didn’t make sense for me.
Especially Eskom is a monopoly and has lots of power over coal supplies?
Of course, absolutely so, I think those are the things that I’ve always tested and I’ve always applied. But we were always told that due to old agreements whereby we, and we had these massive old agreements and when we had the Cost-Plus Mines, we were in this difficult predicament. We had this difficult predicament because we couldn’t get out of some of our agreements or the prices were already predetermined and we had to… We were in that situation. But anyway so, over and above that. Initially, when my husband was appointed as an advisor I didn’t think there was a conflict because he was an advisor to Minister Zwane and I was working under Minister Lynne Brown. But around January 2016, there were articles dealing with Minister Zwane and obviously the Guptas, and obviously the Optimum and Tegeta matter. I wrote to Eskom and I said, ‘you know what, my husband is an advisor and I don’t think I should be in any meetings dealing specifically with the issuing of mining agreements.’ They said, ‘okay, fine.’ I was allowed to be excused. The first meeting that was held was in February, the 10th February. This is the minutes of the 10th February meeting. As you can see, I was in attendance and there were no declarations because none of the entities involved, I had an interest in so, that is how it is reflected as whether you have an interest or whatever.
[Viroshini shows Gareth an Eskom document.]
Why are some of these other sections blacked out like this?
Because it’s confidential. Remember, I’m a board member. I can’t give you access to minutes, which are confidential.So, that’s why when I did my submissions to the Press Ombudsman I had to delete that but I advised him I can attend on the day and present the originals so, that’s why that’s deleted. Then, if you look at page… So, Thuli Madonsela in her report, she talks about the 10th February and she says, ‘there were no declarations.’ Then she goes to the next minutes. But if you look on the minutes of February, on page 25, if you look under the heading ‘primary energy.’ When we were about to talk about the Optimum Coal and the Glencore matter, I advised them that my husband is an advisor and I needed to be excused, and I left the room but she didn’t read page 25, otherwise why would she have ignored this? In the report, if you look at her State Capture Report, she says, ‘there were no declarations’ and that’s it. She doesn’t talk about the fact that at page 25, I left the room. Then the next meeting was in March. February had one meeting and we had another meeting in March. The March meeting was…
Just to summarise. You’re essentially saying that during that February, you realised that there could be a potential problem (regarding a conflict of interest)?
I did it prior to that and I advised her. Not before the meeting, specifically. I just said to them, ‘you know what, I don’t want to be in any meetings dealing with the issuing of mining contracts.’
But with the first meeting, when Eskom got in touch with you and wanted to have that late-night meeting. At that stage it didn’t…?
No, the prepayment?
The prepayment was done in April 2016 so, before that prepayment meeting I told them, and I stayed away from the February meeting. Then there was another meeting in March, and I advised them also that I shouldn’t be in that meeting. The prepayment happened in April. My husband resigned as an advisor end of March 2016 so, I had no choice. The conflict had fell away. The board said, ‘you don’t have a conflict, you need to be at the meetings.’ Anyway, so then the next meeting was the 7th March so, this is the list of board minutes that they gave me so it was the 10th February and then the 7th March?
Can I take photos of this?
I don’t think you can because this is from them. This is what they gave me. This is their list so, if you look at the 7th March, this is the meeting, right. The next page, you see, look what it says. ‘Ms Naidoo,’ I reminded them that for the purposes of 5.4 and 5.6, which were mining related matters that my husband was an advisor and I need to be excused.
But you can see, they deliberated it and they said, ‘no, I must stay in because 5.4 and 5.6 didn’t deal with the issuing of tenders to any company.’ It dealt with general strategies, dealing with the coal. It had nothing to do with the issuing of a tender or anything. So, they said that there was no conflict, ‘why do you need to be excused?’ So, if you look at 5.5 and 5.6, it doesn’t talk about the issuing of a tender to any specific company. It was just general strategies saying, ‘go now and look for companies that can supply us coal.’
Right so then they requested I stay in. At the end of this month my husband resigned. That is why that matter was on the 11th April and I had no choice but to be at that meeting.
You’re saying that you had no choice but you say yourself, that you previously raised a couple of red flags with them.
Of course, you can see. I can tell you, why would you when you are waiting for the DPE to give you money and handouts go and pay any company a prepayment? It does not make commercial sense.
Obviously, the prepayment made Eskom look like it was a financial services company providing the Guptas with money?
Absolutely so, according to the Treasury Report. The Treasury Report, the final report from what I understand, came out last month or July and it stated that a lot of things were not complied with by management. Specifically, and it didn’t speak any ill of the board. It said, ‘management did not…’ So, as a result of all my questions, two days later we had a schedule tender meeting and we were then given assurance by management that as a result of all the probing and the questions the company now was going to give us a guarantee, in the form of shares so, that our money was guaranteed the R657 would be guaranteed. There’d be no risk to it because we’d have a section of the shares and on that basis, the board said, ‘okay fine you can go ahead.’
You had this comfort. Thuli Madonsela’s report said, ‘that there was a reckless…’ ‘The board acted reckless, because it was wasteful expenditure.’ We asked all these questions. We were given assurance that it was the best deal and it was the best price and yes, we were also given assurance now, ‘you’ve got a section of the shares being allocated to you, to balance out the prepayment that if you don’t get back your coal that you’ve purchased, you’ve got these shares, which you can exercise.’ So, on that basis the board agreed to it.
But wasn’t the prepayment really strange?
That’s the thing, Gareth, it wasn’t, because this happened a lot. In Eskom, we had a thing called Cost-Plus Mines so, for me, the whole bizarre thing was the Cost-Plus Mines. Like in Thuli Madonsela’s report she talks about the 23rd April 2015. She said, that the board had got together and the board had decided right at that stage that we did not want to sign an agreement with Glencore because we were setting the whole deal up. She was so wrong. We were there from December 2015, to then, it was 4 months, and we were told, ‘here are your agreements.’ You stuck by them. You’re stuck by these prices. You can’t get out of these agreements.
If you look at the minutes of the 23rd, in it, we don’t say, ‘you don’t sign this.’ We just gave it to a newly appointed CEO to say, ‘you sort it out, you do everything, you do the due diligence and you make sure that it’s the best deal for us.’ We didn’t say… And there’s a part of the minutes that actually says, ‘we should try and get shares in this company because here we’ve got Cost-Plus Mines, where at the beginning of January you will pay like, for example,’ and I’m giving you an example, and these were examples that were given to us. ‘You’d pay like R100m to a particular mine to run that mine.’ But over and above that, we will still pay every cent for the coal that you got.’ It made no sense. These mines were not in your asset base, they’re not part of your assets but you’re running it. It’s like a net. Yes, it doesn’t make sense, the landlord is smiling all the way to the bank. I’ve never seen this anywhere in business so, for me, it was fascinating why Eskom would do this.
Then the understanding or we were told it was because 20 years ago the purpose or the structure of how these agreements was to create a system in place, whereby you’d provide the cheapest electricity to the end consumer by having these kinds of relationships. These mines would focus on you, do you understand?
But Eskom has the monopoly. It’s got the power, and the weight behind it. Why would it need to cosy up to anyone?
What also didn’t gel with me was that by the time we were there, we had Majuba and we had the Duvha accidents, and the reasoning behind it was that, ‘you were putting bad quality coal into these machines.’ They were destroying the boilers and things like that so, the understanding was you now need to start buying good quality, but you’re stuck with these agreements. Remember, these agreements were signed long before us, and you couldn’t get out of it. I remember when we were load shedding and one of the things I said was, ‘why can’t we agree with these companies that when they do down time we load shed?’ That way you’d obviously… Because you pay penalties when you load shed certain companies. They said, ‘no, there’s binding agreements and you can’t do this sort of thing.’
So, it didn’t make sense why firstly, we continued running on these particular agreements, where you’ve got this Cost-Plus Mines, you’re accepting bad quality coal, your machines are breaking down. We had a lot of strategy sessions, where we said, ‘we’d rather pay a little more but good quality coal.’ The machines needed to run their lifespan. There was just so many things that the board wanted to change, beneficially but right now, because of the State Capture report and the fact that nobody has ever spoken to any one of us. It’s as if we are a bunch of crooks. We’re all professionals that went all the way in our careers, with impeccable reputations. Why would you reach so far and then go and do something like this?
Anyway so, the State Capture report comes out, and it says, ‘my husband contributed to the shares to Tegeta.’ That was the first time my husband heard about it. He’s never contributed to the shares to Tegeta.
Are you 100% sure about that?
Yes, he’s given me assurances, and I’ve met with his auditors and he’s said he’s not contributed to the shares. He doesn’t own shares there and he’s not contributed the shares to Tegeta. That will question my marriage but I did ask him and I also went and met with the auditors, so I’m going to get an affidavit when I go to the Parliamentary Inquiry. For me, I think we should have all been given a chance to basically answer all of these allegations. It’s simply not fair that because of an article the perception is that… I mean, let me explain to you, Gareth, what State Capture means for me.
I had a kids birthday party, and people wouldn’t take photographs at the party because the perception is that if you take a photograph with me now, then you’re part of State Capture. This is not about whether you’re applying undue influence in your position. It’s about whether you’re sitting and having coffee with me.
It’s affected you personally.
Of course, it’s affected me terribly. I need to clear my name and I have to wait for this enquiry, and I’m not in the situation where I dictate when it happens. We’ve got to wait for the review and there’s just been the most horrific stuff written. BizNews, that’s the paper you’re writing for. They had an opinion done by an economist, who called us ‘the worst board ever.’ But nobody has ever spoken to us. Nobody knows what we did or whether we applied our minds or what we did. What else would I have done that night? What else could I have done that night?
When I left on the 1st July, the company had declared a profit. When we went there we were totally in debt. I can’t answer these questions as to how the price was not favourable, because I asked the question, and you told [Eskom] me it was favourable. You need to now give me an explanation as to why you agreed to this, if you’re saying to me it was the best price, did you do enough to make sure you got the best price? As a board member, we were told at one stage, I was told, that we cannot get too operational so, there’s certain questions you can and certain questions you can’t ask. I don’t know what else I could have done.
I think a lot of people are going to read those articles that have been published, and they’re going to ask questions about your husband, in particular. What is your relationship like with your husband? Are you still with him?
Yes, but I don’t want to discuss my husband. This article is about me and my position as a board member.
But do you talk business with your husband?
Occasionally we do, but we were also fully aware that we were both in senior roles and that we needed to respect those roles. If I was a Gupta-link… tell me something, why did I abstain from those meetings? I’m there, the perception out there or even what you all keep writing, is that we were there for the benefit of making sure we sign off on deals for them. I excused myself from those meetings. I should be given a chance to prove that. The saddest part, the whole Ngubane article, I wrote to Minister Brown, I wrote to her after the article came out and I said, ‘you needed to do something about it.’ I was given assurance that we were going to bring some sort of class action but that never happened, and that’s when I made a concerted to effort to say I’m leaving. This was an email that was given to me by Dr Ben, based on my email to him. In the complaint to the Financial Mail, I did put in the letter to the minister, if I sent you that. Did you see it?
Yes, it’s on an attachment that you sent me with the Financial Mail and stuff, isn’t it?
Yes, I’m trying to see if I’ve still got it.
This class action hasn’t happened?
Nothing happened, what date was it? It was the 22nd April 2016, and I then resigned and left on the 1st July, and you know what I, honestly in hindsight believe if we stood up and we all went to amaBhungane and defended ourselves, this would have been a very different State Capture report. She’s got the article, it’s attached. I think it’s in the Financial Mail complaint. I put in the letter I sent to the Minister.
Then even, there’s the letter to Mark Swilling, this is a letter from Mark Swilling but I wrote to him to say, ‘you have mentioned me in the report but you’ve never contacted me and unless you’ve contacted me, you shouldn’t be putting me in your report.’
I’ve written to the church’s [head of SA Council of Churches] guy. He promised to meet with me now, it’s going from May. He has not yet met with me but I think that is also in one of my complaints.
Just so that I can understand this. You’ve now worked for your husband’s company as well?
Yes so, when I left Mpact I then started working for my husband’s company, which would have been April 2015.
Now, that company is called Albatine?
Please tell me what that company does exactly?
It’s a business brokering company so, he puts deals together and obviously, he markets businesses.
H set up this company before being an advisor for Mr Zwane?
Yes, long before.
Are you able to tell me how long before?
I think it could have been in 2013, I could be mistaken but I think it’s about 2013.
How do you think it came about that these reports alleged that he’d gone into business with the Guptas?
Because the amaBhungane said he’s friends with Salim Essa, because he had played golf with him and it was on the Houghton Golf website.
Did your husband go into business with them, the Guptas?
No, absolutely not. He was not in business with Salim Essa at all, and it doesn’t say that he was in business with him. It just says, ‘he was his friend’ or ‘he’s a friend of Salim Essa.’
Right, so they were playing on the golf course together?
Well, it doesn’t talk about the golf course but it talks… It says, ‘they are friends’ and that’s what the article said. The article is in the State Capture Report.
I mean, again, just looking at how he’s been an adviser for Zwane as well. Obviously, it’s widely reported that there are strong links between the Guptas and Zwane.
Another journalist said the same thing to me. I said, ‘why is it that you’ve targeted me as one of the directors? Why not one of the others? Why are you all going after me?’ And he said, it’s because your husband is an advisor to Mr Zwane, who had these trips to overseas concerning this. So, the submission is that you are obviously, guilty of something, and the thing is the minutes don’t say I asked those questions so, obviously when she read it, she may have assumed the other board members or whatever, you know.
Have you ever met Minister Zwane?
No, I’ve never met Minister Zwane.
Have you ever met the Guptas?
No, I have not met the Guptas. The first time I read about them was, I think after that wedding. It was a bit of a fascination but I’ve never met the Guptas.
I’ve met him twice at a restaurant, my husband introduced me to him but other than that, he’s not my friend or something.
But your husband knows him probably a little bit better than what you do?
Yes, my husband does know him.
Aren’t you concerned that there are those links there? Have you ever had a chat to your husband about it?
But the question is, it doesn’t mean you know somebody, or that you did anything wrong as a board member and that was what the test should have been. It should have been whether I did anything wrong and whether I applied my mind, and I did. For example, I worked for Mpact. Mpact signed… (okay, but I don’t think I can say this but okay) previous companies I’ve worked for have signed agreements with Eskom, but I’m no longer employed by those companies. Nobody is saying, ‘I’m captured by those companies.’
But your husband also went on a trip with Zwane to Switzerland?
No, not my husband, sorry. I think you’ve got the wrong facts. It was I think Malcolm Mabaso. He’s another advisor to Minister Zwane. He was…
so he didn’t go on any trip to Switzerland?
No. It was Malcolm Mabaso that was in the article, if I recall. I don’t know I could be wrong, but I think it was him because it did say one of the advisors went. And I know for a fact that my husband was not the advisor on this matter because there were documents sent to Eskom from the Minister’s office that reflects other people that were dealing with this matter.
Your husband has no links to this then?
No. He did mention stuff like he was involved with the Lily Mine matters and things like that.
Is your husband doing any business now with any government people or anything?
At the moment, no, nothing. Absolutely nothing.
So, he had quite a short stint there, with Zwane.
Because we decided that it’s not worth it. I took this Eskom position because I thought it would be good for my career. It would allow me a bit more flexi-time with my children, I have small kids. He also, he thought he could make a difference but it wasn’t worth it. It literally ruined our careers.
If you had to see the Guptas today what would you say to them, if you had to meet them?
I just want to clear my name, and I just want to move on with my life. I don’t want to have anything to do with any of those people. And I think the President needs to have this inquiry as soon as possible because there’s a lot of us out there that needs to move on with our lives.
This is something that’s really hurt you?
Of course, it’s devastating.
You want this to go through the Judiciary Inquiry?
Of course, absolutely. How else am I going to get a chance to prove that I didn’t do anything wrong?
And another character that’s been mentioned quite a lot is this Mark Pamensky.
Yes, he was a board member with me.
Did you ever have any discussions with him? Did your husband know him as well?
We spoke. We kind of got to know each other better on the board because the Mark I know was a person who wanted to make a difference. I know the perception out there that he was part of all of this and things like that, and he set this man up, and I’ve read a few articles. But I promise you, he would excuse himself when there were these board meetings, I remember this clearly, and he also wanted to make a difference at Eskom. We gave management a really hard time, all these board members, we really worked hard. When we were all finding out about the inquiry we had a discussion and I said to him, ‘you need to start talking -coming out and telling people your story.’ But that’s his business. I’m not prepared to talk about him, it’s his battle.
Yes, but it’s problematic as well that he was part of Oakbay while being on the Eskom board.
I understand that…
There’s clear conflict of interest there, surely.
You know, all I can say is I know when we were at meetings he would leave the room, I can remember those things. I think she also didn’t contact him so, he obviously, didn’t have a chance to prove that to her. I’m sure he’s also waiting to clear his name in the Inquiry or, alternatively, if they call him at the Parliamentary Inquiry. I know they’re calling me because the initial email had my name and a few others board members but it didn’t have everybody’s names.
What are you hoping from this now? Especially, with your complaint to the Press Ombudsman and the Inquiry?
I want people to be fair with me, and tell my side of the story. You guys have written about us as if we’re a bunch of crooks and that I was one of the board members that sat at this late-night meeting and just signed off. I applied my mind and I think it’s only fair that that is expressed. The article that you guys wrote, said ‘named and shamed,’ you had put my picture on it. If I tell you how many of my family members have WhatsApped me. At the end of the day, Thuli Madonsela’s office should have contacted me. I had a right to speak. Just like how she spoke to the complainants and all of them, she had a right to contact me and give me an opportunity to explain myself before she released her report without even contacting me and nobody talks about that. None of the journalists and none of the articles ever talk about the fact that none of us were contacted so, that was in violation of her Act.
Would you ever consider going State witness?
In what sense because I am prepared to talk the truth and be there, of course, absolutely. I am prepared to speak up and say exactly what I did as a board member. I can only, obviously talk about stuff that I know and that is in my possession.