Zondo commission: Molefe says Glencore sold Optimum to portray him as a Gupta ally

Former Eskom chief executive Brian Molefe on Tuesday claimed before the Zondo commission that Glencore off-loaded the Optimum in a plot to paint him as a Gupta ally and tried to revive his recent allegations that President Cyril Ramaphosa acted at the behest of the mining giant.

Molefe returned to the witness stand for the first time since mid-January, when he accused Ramaphosa of undermining Eskom, and the country, for the sake of his business interests in the mining sector.

On Tuesday, Molefe again sought to steer his exchange with evidence leader Pule Seleka and Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo towards the historical links of the then deputy president in 2015 with Glencore.

He said he wanted to remind the commission that on 15 January, he made “a substantive allegation” against Ramaphosa, relating to his 9.47% shareholding in Optimum before his return to active politics, and to be assured that “adequate weight” would be attached to it.

Molefe’s words were at times inaudible, but Zondo assured him that his allegations would be treated in the same manner as all others raised before the commission.

Sabotage accusations 

“Mr Molefe, I am surprised that you would think that it is being swept under the carpet, because you said it happened, and you know from your own experience that when a witness says something that implicates somebody in terms of the rules of the commission that person is given a copy of the statement.”

Molefe had, in a long, sweeping statement, accused Ramaphosa of selling the country short and, as head of the Eskom “war room”, sabotaging the work of the company’s executives as they tried to end a particularly bad spell of load-shedding.

His testimony on Tuesday returned to this point in time, when he was newly seconded to the power utility from Transnet, and Glencore and Eskom were involved in a potentially damaging standoff over the terms of the company’s long-running contract to supply the utility’s Hendrina power plant with coal.

Molefe likened Glencore’s negotiating tactics, as it tried to secure a coal price increase, to “holding a gun to my head”, and said he told the company’s executives to go ahead and pull the trigger.

Switching metaphors, he compared the situation to a poker game in which whoever blinked would lose, and said because he stood firm, Glencore eventually agreed to resume supply at the contractual price, but soon afterwards began talks to sell the mine to Tegeta.

“Except, chairperson, now they threw a curveball. They say ‘we are selling the mine to the Guptas’,” Molefe said. 

“That was a masterstroke because they were so angry with us, they were now going to start a campaign to finger Eskom, to taint us as Gupta people.”

According to Molefe, this was revenge for his refusal to “be bullied into acting against the interests of Eskom”.

“They sold the mine to the Guptas. I did not make them sell the mine to the Guptas. They sold the mine to the Guptas [of] their own accord,” he said.

State of Capture report

Molefe said then public protector Thuli Madonsela’s 2016 report, “State of Capture”, which called for the commission to be established, was part of this deliberate narrative to compromise himself and others.

Madonsela found that Eskom executives, including Molefe, went out of their way to enable Tegeta’s acquisition of the mine.

 Madonsela, with the help of Molefe’s cellphone records, found that he had spoken to one of the Gupta brothers 44 times and visited the family Saxonwold home 19 times.

The report contributed to Molefe’s tearful resignation from Eskom later that year.

On Tuesday, Molefe said Madonsela had failed to interview the people at Eskom she implicated.

“[Suddenly] the public protector came up with her report. She did not interview us, she interviewed Mr [Clinton] Effron. Mr Effron went to her to complain about us, and she instituted that report. There was a media campaign, chairperson, … to rubbish us as people who are controlled by the Guptas.”

The aim was to create a narrative that Eskom had forced Glencore to sell the mine to the Gupta empire and to find any evidence that linked the utility’s executives to the family, Molefe claimed.

“Any scrap of evidence that you were next to the Guptas at any point. I see in this commission, there is an allegation that I was in an aeroplane that had the Guptas. I was flying, I was on my way to a Brics meeting, and they happened to be in the same aeroplane,” he said.

On 15 January, Molefe blamed Eskom’s woes on Glencore trying to extract R8-billion from the company in price increases and penalty waivers after it bought Optimum without due diligence and locked itself into a disadvantageous pricing structure.

He said the company was banking on Ramaphosa’s political clout to resolve the problem in its favour, and went on to accuse the president of playing along, with devastating consequences for Eskom that included a protracted return to load-shedding.

Molefe’s allegations have proven politically useful to Ramaphosa’s foes in the factional battle raging within the ANC. 

In early February, Ernest Netshivhumbe laid charges of fraud, theft and contravening the Public Finance Management Act against Ramaphosa on the basis of Molefe’s testimony to the commission.

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