Former mineral resources minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi at the Zondo commission. Picture: MASI LOSI
Former mineral resources minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi at the Zondo commission. Picture: MASI LOSI

Former mineral resources minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi said on Wednesday that he believes he was removed as mineral resources minister after refusing to co-operate with the Guptas.

Ramatlhodi was removed from the strategic portfolio in 2015 and replaced with Gupta-linked Mosebenzi Zwane. Ramatlhodi was moved to the position of public service and administration minister at the time.

Zwane was accused of travelling to Zurich to assist the Guptas and then-president Jacob Zuma’s son Duduzane in negotiations with Glencore, regarding their purchase of Optimum mine.

Shortly before his removal from the mineral resources department, Ramatlhodi said he had refused to take away all of Glencore’s mining licences. 

Glencore’s Optimum mine, which was eventually sold to the Guptas, was supplying coal to Eskom.

At the time, then Eskom CEO Brian Molefe had suspended the collection of coal from Optimum. His reasons were that Glencore owed Eskom R2bn and he wanted the money, Ramatlhodi said. 

Ramatlhodi then met Molefe to discuss the issue and he agreed to open negotiations with Glencore on the matter.

However, later that evening Molefe called Ramatlhodi and said Eskom chair Ben Ngubane wanted to meet him the next day. 

Ramatlhodi said that at that meeting, Ngubane demanded that he as the minister “take all the licences that Glencore has”, overriding the agreement he had reached with Molefe the day before.

The former minister said he told Ngubane he could not do that, but the Eskom chair insisted that he could because he was the minister.

Ramatlhodi said Ngubane told him that he would have to report back to the president, who was leaving for an overseas trip.

He said Ngubane also indicated that if he did not withdraw the licences, Zuma would deal with him.

Shortly after this Ramatlhodi was removed as mineral resources minister.

He said he was at the Union buildings when he was called to a meeting with the president.

“He congratulated me on managing the department very well and wanted to wish me well because I am now being promoted to public service and administration following the demise of Collins Chabane,” Ramatlhodi said.

“He [Zuma] said the portfolio needed someone experienced.”

However, Ramatlhodi said he did not see this as a promotion, but rather as punishment.

“We were doing a good job and we were being forced to do wrong things. The promotion was punishment to send a message. When I got out, a Gupta minister came in,” he said, referring to Zwane.

Ramatlhodi said Zwane, who he sat next to at cabinet meetings, made no secret about his relationship with the Guptas. The same went for short-lived finance minister Des van Rooyen, who Ramatlhodi said was even “boastful” about his relationship with the family.

Ramatlhodi was eventually axed from Zuma’s cabinet at the end of March 2017, in the same late night reshuffle as Pravin Gordhan and his deputy Mcebisi Jonas. 

Like Gordhan, Ramatlhodi said he was not informed that he was being removed and found out only the next morning after his wife said to him “you are no longer a minister, papa”. 

Ramatlhodi said he believes two other things led to his eventual axing — his refusal as public service and administration minister to appoint Mzwanele Manyi as director-general of the department of mineral resources, and public comments regarding whether Gordhan should be removed.

Ramatlhodi said that when Zwane requested that Manyi be appointed his director-general, he refused because Manyi did not have the post-graduate qualification, which was needed for the job. 

quintalg@businesslive.co.za