JOHANNESBURG – In more damning testimony regarding former president Jacob Zuma alleged meddling in the affairs of state-owned enterprises, the state capture commission of inquiry on Tuesday heard he had furiously objected to former Eskom chief executive Jacob Maroga leaving the power utility back in 2009.
So determined was Zuma that he and Maroga held secret meetings without then public enterprises minister Barbara Hogan's knowledge, affirming Maroga's position at Eskom against the wishes of the board.
Hogan was continuing her testimony on Wednesday at the inquiry, which is being chaired by deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo.
The Maroga saga at Eskom started during a board getaway to strategise on Eskom in October 2009. Hogan said she was told by the board that during a meeting Maroga got up and told them that he was resigning and stepped out of the room. Maroga and then board chairman Bobby Godsell had a tense working relationship at the time, leading Godsell to also leave the room to allow the rest of the board to handle Maroga's sudden resignation.
''The board then unanimously agreed to accept Maroga's resignation. A delegation from the board was dispatched the next day to meet with Maroga on modalities of his departure. I was in Cape Town and flew in the next day on 29 October and headed to Eskom head office, Megawatt Park. Maroga came into the office and told me it was not true that he resigned,'' said Hogan.
Confusion followed and Maroga handed Godsell a letter addressed to the board, stating that he never resigned as chief executive during the board getaway.
Maroga wrote: ''This a matter of national importance. It is about the future of the country and role of state-owned entities in this democracy, and not about the relations between the chairman and the chief executive. My remarks of frustrations in a board meeting cannot be construed as an offer to resign. The chairman (Godsell) has expressed similar frustrations numerous times and has not been treated in this manner. I was stunned by the board's response that they accept my offer, and wish to communicate this with immediate effect.''
He further said he had put before the board a comprehensive strategy document articulating the direction Eskom should take, and believed that was what the board should engage on.
Hogan said she witnessed a harsh exchange of words between Maroga and Godsell and realised the extent of their broken relationship. She then requested a meeting with members of the board to get an honest account from each of them on the leadership situation at Eskom. Each board member told her Maroga did offer to resign and that the matter was discussed.
''Some of them were frank and said they felt Maroga was not performing as chief executive. I left the room and called in a senior counsel and my adviser, as this was a tricky matter. All agreed that the relationship with Maroga deteriorated completely. I requested my deputy minister Godongwana to meet with Maroga and seek an elegant way to deal with this. I was simply trying to facilitate the process and not interfere in corporate governance.''
Maroga remained defiant and told Godongwana he wanted to meet with Hogan, not him. Hogan said she met Maroga and told him she could not get involved in Eskom's governance issues, as that was the responsibility of the board.
''He was arrogant, telling me to exercise my leadership as a minister and affirm him as chief executive and that he has not resigned. I offered him mediation, he said no. He was insisting that he remain chief executive. Finally, I said to him I have offered you a dignified exit, mediation and arbitration and beyond that, I cannot do anything. I contacted the board chairman and told him I had not been effective, and they then proceed with whatever process, as my attempts with Maroga did not work.''
As Zuma was out of the country at that time, his deputy Kgalema Motlanthe was acting president. Hogan said she sought Motlanthe's assistance, but he told her ''to do what she has to do'' and that he would not want to interfere. When Zuma returned, she tried setting up an urgent meeting with him. She received a call from Zuma furiously saying to her: ''What are you doing? Tell the board that they must stop that now!''
The instruction to her was that the process of dealing with Maroga's resignation be stopped, and that he remain chief executive. A scheduled media briefing by Godsell to appraise South Africans about whether Maroga was leaving or not was called off after Zuma's outburst, Hogan said.
She continued: ''I felt that the president was trying to position me to give an instruction that the board did not agree with. I told him [Zuma] I cannot interfere, and that if that has to be done, it should be a presidential instruction, not my decision,'' she said.
Zuma himself then met with the board, and a decision was taken that Maroga be placed on special leave while the board resolves the fracas. Maroga refused.
The former president then informed Hogan that he had given his permission that Maroga remain chief executive. Hogan said she told him that this was not right and that he was imposing himself on board functions at Eskom. The day after Zuma's call, Hogan said she was told that Maroga arrived for work at Eskom flanked by members of labour union Numsa.
Maroga then wrote a boastful letter to Hogan, Parliament, the Eskom board, and senior managers. Hogan read out the letter in which Maroga said he was not going anywhere and that was affirmed by the ''highest shareholder'', in apparent reference to Zuma. He said he would implement his plan that all ''unauthorised actions'' taken by the board in 2009 were now rescinded.
''The impression I had was that there were private meetings between him and the former president. Me and the deputy minister were devastated by this. It was clear that the former president had encouraged the chief executive to believe he was above company law, corporate governance …and only saw himself as accountable to the former president.''
''It was my view at that stage that the former president was showing unfortunate signs of imposing his authority with no regard for due process. I had previously seen how the president saw his role, and he went further than he did with Mr Gama [former Transnet chief executive] and installs someone as chief executive without consulting me. ''
Godongwana took Maroga's letter to Luthuli House and asked to address the party top brass. Maroga received a call from Zuma on the same day to vacate his office, which he did.
According to Hogan, she was instructed to ask Godsell to retract his resignation which he tendered in the midst of Maroga's defiance against the board. Godsell agreed to think about it, but did not make any undertaking to Hogan. Then ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe later called Hogan, and told her Godsell should never return to Eskom.
''Mantashe said if the black guy goes then the white guy must also go,'' Hogan testified about the call with Mantashe.
Maroga would later challenge his removal in the courts, and demand to be reinstated or paid R85 million as compensation. The high court dismissed his application on the basis that he had initially resigned. He had been Eskom chief executive between 2007 and 2009.
African News Agency (ANA)