Ex-Eskom exec: how Gupta friends moved to hijack state funds earmarked for news media

Not appeased with the R260m pocketed from government advertising from 2004 to 2018, the Guptas allegedly hatched a plan to ensure that all funds set aside for media from state coffers would be rerouted to their own publications and TV network. Their plan consisted of strong-arming the heads of state utilities and applying pressure on them to end all commercial relationships with newspapers that were seen to be uncovering the looting and issuing of fraudulent contracts. National Treasury’s director of operations and implementation of financial systems, Ian Gilliland testified at the Zondo commission last year about how he had been roped in from India to establish ANN7 and The New Age newspaper. Gilliland’s assertion President Jacob Zuma was influential in supporting the Guptas to receive government funding has seemingly been corroborated by former Eskom executive Suzanne Daniels. – Bernice Maune.  

By Bernice Maune

An untangling of the complex role that the Guptas played in attempting to force media publications to stop reporting on their involvement in Eskom matters is the focus of much work at the Zondo state capture inquiry.

Chairperson Ray Zondo and evidence leader Pule Seleka have heard how an external batch of documents was sent from the email address of a businessman to the chairpersons of Eskom, Transnet and Denel. Other state corporations were apparently also sent the documents which contain resolutions set to be presented to the boards of the companies.

The aim of the resolutions was to suspend all media advertising and the commercial relationships that Eskom had with City Press, Sunday Times and Mail and Guardian. According to Suzanne Daniels, who was once the company secretary and was promoted to head of legal and compliance at Eskom, she received the documents through her company email. Eskom chairperson Dr Ben Ngubane was also sent the documents and was aware of what they contained, Daniels stated in her testimony.

Read also: Eskom board member Klein on ‘Gupta finance minister’ Des van Rooyen; what she told Zondo

“There was a meeting called to deal with the media onslaught and these specific publications were identified by the board as not favourable to Eskom,” said Daniels.

Reading from the report compiled by the businessman, Seleka noted how the documentation contained not necessarily suggestions but statements and orders.

City Press, Mail and Guardian and Sunday Times have in the past published stories in the respective papers making unsubstantiated allegations of fraudulent conduct, maladministration and corruption against officials of state-owned companies.

“They have selected to not report on the verifiable responses provided by the relevant SOEs. They irresponsibly publish gossip and sensationalism without any regard of fact. The above form of reporting by the three newspapers is misled to the members of the public and is intended to influence the public perception that state-owned companies are corrupt and guilty of stealing public funds.

“If this negative trend by the three newspapers is not challenged, it will cause irreparable damage to the roles of the state-owned companies in assisting the government in job creation and economic growth. It is therefore important that state-owned companies should therefore suspend any above dealings with the above three newspapers until such time they provide verifiable proof supporting the allegations above,” read Seleka.

The businessman added that Eskom and Denel would move to withdraw funding from the three weekly publications.

According to Daniels, she had received the email and attachments and prepared these for the board meeting. Former Public Enterprises minister Lynne Brown and Ngubane were allegedly complicit in ensuring that the Eskom board would move to adopt the resolutions.

“There was actually a conversation between the minister and the chairperson about media treatment. When they talk about state-owned companies, they are talking about Eskom, Transnet, Denel…Those were the main ones that were being bombarded in the newspaper. It was state-owned companies that were within the portfolio of state-owned enterprises,” she lamented.

Watch Suzanne Daniels testimony at the state enquiry commission below. Her testimony on the suspension of media spend is at the beginning and ends just over the 1 hour mark.