Zola Tsotsi. Picture: ESA ALEXANDER
Zola Tsotsi. Picture: ESA ALEXANDER

Gupta associates Nazeem Howa and Salim Essa knew 11 days before the act that Eskom board chair Zola Tsotsi was going to be removed, the state capture inquiry heard on Tuesday.

Tsotsi’s successor, Ben Ngubane, gave evidence about events leading to Tsotsi’s removal on March 30 2015.

The inquiry heard how Howa and Essa knew about the plan on March 19, and had prepared a press statement that would be issued to announce Tsotsi’s removal. The revelation emerged through e-mail exchanges that show the duo were already speaking about Tsotsi’s removal 11 days before it happened.

On March 30, Tsotsi was forced to resign after his Eskom board colleagues threatened to vote him out. But he asked them not to in an attempt to protect his reputation.

Zondo expressed shock that Eskom outsiders had intimate details of internal happenings at the power utility well before they took place. This, he said, would suggest they might have been behind such developments.

“That raises a concern if somebody told Mr Howa in advance what the board was going to decide. Who was that? And did she or he know the board would make those decisions?” said Zondo.

“It is possible somebody who may have wanted the board to make the decision to remove Mr Tsotsi as chairperson might have gone around to canvass support from board members, and told Mr Howa this is what the board will decide.

“It is even more worrying if the position is that Mr Howa and Mr Essa were making decisions outside Eskom that they wanted the board to take, and they had an expectation the board would take those decisions. That would mean the board is not acting independently but is manipulated by people outside.”

The inquiry heard the final statement about Tsotsi’s sacking, issued on March 31, was also shared with Tony Gupta.

Ngubane said he was no-one’s “puppet” and he personally had nothing to do with the circulation of the press statement to Tony Gupta, Howa and Essa.

Evidence leader Pule Seleka made a proposition that it was Ngubane who shared information with Essa about Eskom’s internal affairs. Seleka supported his proposition with the fact that an information portal e-mail belonging to Essa sent several e-mails to Ngubane.

“When someone appears at the inquiry, whatever is said becomes the living truth in the public. So your proposition is a dangerous proposition and therefore I reject it,” said a visibly upset Ngubane.

Testimony is ongoing.

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