All at sea: PetroSA’s liquid natural gas offshore FA platform, 85km off the Southern Cape coast. A former board member has highlighted a long-running power struggle at the agency. Picture: SUPPLIED
All at sea: PetroSA’s liquid natural gas offshore FA platform, 85km off the Southern Cape coast. A former board member has highlighted a long-running power struggle at the agency. Picture: SUPPLIED

Allegations of the attempted "capture" of PetroSA because its axed board failed to support a partnership with a Russian firm linked to President Jacob Zuma form part of an affidavit filed at the High Court in Cape Town by a former board member who has applied to have his axing overturned.

Former board member William Steenkamp also alleges in his affidavit that untoward offers had been made that some board members resign in exchange for board positions in other state-owned companies.

Steenkamp has lodged an urgent application to set aside his axing and that of Owen Tobias, another board member, and for them to be reinstated.

In his affidavit, Steenkamp paints a rather bleak picture of a long-running power struggle between PetroSA and its shareholder, the Central Energy Fund (CEF).

He accuses the CEF’s former and current board of attempting to usurp the powers and functions of PetroSA and take over its capital expenditure and procurement processes. This follows the resignation of the majority of the PetroSA board in June amid deep financial woes.

Steenkamp and Tobias were removed on July 5. Steenkamp alleges the pair were removed from the board after they were accused of failing to support a bid by a Russian company preferred by Zuma for a "framework agreement" for a partnership around "Block 9", a demarcated area awarded to PetroSA for the exploration of gas.

Steenkamp says in his affidavit that he and Tobias had been accused by Anda Bici — an adviser to CEF chairman Luvo Makasi — of favouring a Nigerian firm linked to ANC treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize.

Steenkamp also alleges that he was offered a post on the boards of either Eskom or South African Airways if he agreed to resign from the PetroSA board.

"It became abundantly clear to Tobias and I what CEF’s intention was. CEF wanted to cull the PetroSA board in order to take control of PetroSA’s assets and capital expenditure programme [which includes procurement] and usurp its role as the national oil and gas company," reads his affidavit.

"By the time Tobias and I had been threatened with removal, [we had been] promised board membership of our choice, [there were also] false accusations levelled against us and [we were] threatened with party politics," he says in the affidavit.

In his reply, Makasi proffered a completely different version of the interaction between Steenkamp and his adviser.

Makasi said it was Steenkamp who sought to lobby Bici to assist him to obtain a post on the board of another state-owned company.

Makasi described the allegations around Block 9 as crude and urged Steenkamp to report any criminal conduct to law enforcement agencies.

Makasi denied Steenkamp’s allegation that his removal from the PetroSA board was an attempt to capture the parastatal and its resources "to divert projects in a particular direction and to benefit specific interests".

He said: "I take exception to the applicants’ allegation that the CEF’s decision was influenced by anything else other than the reasons I have given above."

The reasons included financial and governance woes.

The minister of energy and the new board are cited as respondents in the matter.

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