Parliament - Current acting Eskom chairman Zethembe Khoza on Tuesday made the surprising claim before the parliamentary inquiry into the power utility that former CEO Tshediso Matona was suspended to face charges, directly contradicting earlier testimony by board members that he was not suspected of any wrongdoing.
Khoza also failed to explain why the reasons for his suspension were not revealed to Matona, when he challenged his suspension in court, partly on the grounds that he was never supplied with reasons.
The evidence leader in the inquiry, Advocate Ntuthuzelo Vanara hammered on these and other anomalies in Khoza's testimony as the work of the inquiry began winding down for the festive season break.
In weeks of testimony so far, Eskom board members and Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown have been forced to concede that the careers of Matona, finance director Tsholofelo Molefe and group capital executive Dan Marokane at the power utility were brought to an abrupt end without basis after they were asked to step aside to allow an inquiry into the company's woes.
Khoza said the board had been persuaded by then chairman Zola Tsotsi that there were charges against the three executives in the pipeline, but he could not recall what these were.
He would have to find and submit the relevant document, he added.
Vanara countered: "You seem to be the only one who knows there were charges. All those who have testified are clear that there was no misconduct by these individuals were only asked. My problem is that you cannot even recall what the charges were."
He said it seemed untenable to insist that there were charges long after the board had removed Tsotsi for his role in the executives' suspension.
"How can you get rid of Tsotsi on the basis that there were no charges... how can you still say there were charges because that is contradictory, either you believe Mr Tsotsi or there were no charges."
Khoza countered: "But it does not mean the charges were not there.
"The charges were there but he did not give the report" yielded by the inquiry instituted at time.
In earlier testimony before the inquiry, Tsotsi made the explosive claim that he was ordered to suspend Matona, Molefe and Marokane by former South African Airways chairwoman Dudu Myeni.
Vanara asked whether he had any thoughts on the fact that the departure of the three triggered a downgrading for Eskom, and lead to the eventual secondment of Brian Molefe and Anoj Singh as CEO and CFO respectively.
"It is coincidence that you made innocent souls leave Eskom and the people who replaced them brought Eskom to where they are?"
Much of Tuesday's sitting focused on the contested decision to pay Molefe a R30 million pension after he left the company under a cloud in November after 18 months of service. Executive support manager Anton Minnaar testified that Molefe still qualified as a permanent employee though he was employed for a fixed term of five years.
MPs commented that this was a patent contradiction, but Minnaar doggedly insisted that it was the case.
In testimony on that subject, Khoza referred to a meeting that marked, "the first time that Eskom is advised that tenure of Mr Molefe's employment be on a fixed term basis and not permanent".
Vanara said it was impossible to make this submission, yet support Minnaar's stance.
"How many permanents do you have?" he asked.
Khoza flatly denied testimony by former Eskom board spokesman Khulani Qoma, who said Brown had blocked plans by the board earlier this year to suspend Matshela Koko as the CEO of the company. Qoma told the inquiry Khoza confided to him that he had phoned one of the Gupta brothers to inform him of the looming suspension, and that this prompted Brown to intervene.
"I never said that. He must be lying," he told Vanara.
Asked why the board did not proceed with Koko's suspension when a letter to that effect had been drafted, Khoza said he believed then chairman Ben Ngubane had decided against it.
Vanara countered that as a non-executive chairman, Ngubane did not have the power to do this.