Never has the case for a judicial inquiry into state capture by a judge who is not appointed by President Jacob Zuma been so compelling as it is after Wednesday’s explosive parliamentary hearings into events at Eskom.
The power utility’s former chairman Zola Tsotsi, who at one stage was happy to do Zuma’s bidding – he suspended four Eskom executives in 2015 at his behest – has spilled the beans on his former political bosses. Not only did Tsotsi say it was Zuma who urged him to make the suspensions but that the meeting at which this occurred was convened by Zuma’s close friend, former South African Airways (SAA) chairwoman Dudu Myeni, at the president’s Durban residence.
Tsotsi said it was Myeni who initiated the plan to suspend the four and launch an investigation. She offered the services of her own personal adviser — Nick Linnell — to help implement the suspensions and draw up a board resolution on the investigations. It was Linnell, incidentally, who had done exactly the same at SAA and assisted in the suspension of several executives and had drawn up terms of reference for them to be investigated.
As obvious as it is, it bears repeating: the National Prosecuting Authority has itself long been politically compromised and hollowed out of skills and capacity
Tsotsi also said that Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown was directly involved in the collusion. He was told by fellow board member Ben Ngubane — who succeeded him as chairman after he was fired a short while later — that the names of the four to be suspended had been given to him on the minister’s orders.
Brown, Tony Gupta and his right-hand man Salim Essa had also called Tsotsi to a meeting at the minister’s residence to instruct him on which board members to deploy to which board committees shortly after a new board was appointed in December 2014. Soon after this, Tsotsi had been warned by Tony Gupta that if he did not "help him" he would be taken out of Eskom as he owed his presence there to the Guptas in the first place.
After Tsotsi’s disclosures came Brown’s testimony. Cool, unruffled and sounding every bit rational, she presented the case for her innocence.
She had never handed over her functions to anyone. Not Tony Gupta and not his right-hand man Salim Essa.
In what has become a familiar tone of indignation, Brown said she was "astonished" that Tsotsi had felt it appropriate to hold a meeting with the president without conferring with her before or bothering to tell her of its outcome.
As the information in the public domain was now "destroying the reputations of companies that form the spine and ribs of our economy", as well as the people associated with them, including herself, it was imperative that these claims were comprehensively investigated, she went on.
But unlike Thuli Madonsela, the former public protector, Brown did not suggest an independent judicial inquiry. Rather, it was the National Prosecuting Authority and the Special Investigating Unit that should investigate, she said.
As obvious as it is, it bears repeating: the National Prosecuting Authority has itself long been politically compromised and hollowed out of skills and capacity. The Special Investigating Unit, which is dependent on permission from the president in order to do investigations, has become ineffectual and rather useless.
So here is the difficulty then with the parliamentary inquiry: while it is doing an excellent job of exposing, once again, the extent of the penetration of private and corrupt interests into the heart of the state and its key commercial institutions, it will be difficult for it to move much beyond the various versions of events that are put to it.
Brown and former Eskom CE Brian Molefe proclaim their innocence. Both have made attempts to discredit the witnesses who have given evidence; and both claim that they have upset powerful commercial interests in the form of previously white-owned mining companies.
For the parliamentary inquiry to make a lasting impact, its best bet would be to endorse Madonsela’s proposed remedy.