Parliament - The inquiry into state capture got off to an explosive start on Wednesday, with details of the dark heart of the Gupta operations coming to light and President Jacob Zuma’s name thrown into the mix.
On Wednesday, two committees of Parliament heard evidence of state capture in an effort to put paid to allegations that Zuma and ministers such as Malusi Gigaba and Mosebenzi Zwane, among others, were doing the bidding for the family to capture state-owned entities for looting.
At the public enterprises portfolio committee on Wednesday, former Eskom chief executive Brian Dames and another former employee went to great lengths to expose when the looting started at the power utility.
All this while in the portfolio committee for mineral resources a defiant Zwane defended his relationship with the Guptas, questioning the interest in the family.
Another former Eskom employee and consultant, Ted Blom, claimed he met Zuma at his Forest Town house in Joburg in 2008, when Zuma told him he must meet the “fixer team”.
This left him fuming after they said they wanted to “eat at Eskom”.
Blom did not name the fixer team, but said it comprised eminent persons, including doctors and lawyers. He promised to send a list of the fixer team to Parliament.
“I think all those people are identifiable. There were six people. They were all eminent persons, they were all lawyers and doctors,” said Blom.
He said he had a meeting with Zuma at 11pm after waiting for hours at his house in Forest Town. This was before Zuma was elected president of the country in 2009.
“We were part of a queue of people meeting him. At that meeting, I handed out irregularities in the coal account,” he said, and Zuma referred him to a fixer team.
“The current president (Zuma), before he was president, said he was going to be corruption fighter No1. I went to his house in Forest Town,” he said.
Later, he met with the fixer team in Midrand.
“I went to Midrand to meet with the fixer team, where they asked me, to use my words, how they could join the gravy train. I left that meeting because I was so disgusted,” he said.
Blom also accused Eskom of burning billions of rand every year.
He said the power utility had revalued its assets from R200 billion to R743bn as part of financial engineering.
He said the R3bn irregular expenditure at Eskom is a drop in the ocean, adding that the build programme cost for the Medupi power station rose from R32bn in 2005 to a staggering R91bn.
The same applied to the Kusile power plant, where costs have more than doubled.
Dames, who worked for Eskom for 27 years before he was pushed out, told the inquiry he was left fuming after his meeting with the Guptas, during which they proposed that they wanted some coal contracts at Eskom.
He said his tenure at Eskom became difficult after a new board was appointed in 2010 following the appointment of Gigaba as Public Enterprises Minister.
Dames complained of interference by some of the former chairpersons of Eskom in the operations of the power utility.
“The engagement with the Guptas, I was asked to meet with them. I was asked by Minister Gigaba’s adviser, Siyabonga Mahlangu.
“He asked me to meet some people. After this meeting I was very angry. I asked Mahlangu never to bring these people again. It was a strange discussion. There was a request for coal contracts,” said Dames.
He said the meeting took place at the Sahara Computers offices in Midrand, but Dames did not recall which of the Gupta brothers he met in that meeting.
The Guptas’ lawyer, Gert van der Merwe, referred questions to the family’s spokesperson, Gary Naidoo. Naidoo had not responded at the time of publication.
When asked by the public enterprises committee, Dames said it was inappropriate for Zwane to be involved in the purchase of Optimum mine from Glencore by the Guptas.
Zuma’s spokesperson, Bongani Ngqulunga, could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.
Zwane, meanwhile, said his relationship with the Gupta family was professional and that he would meet them any time, given an opportunity.
Zwane would not back down on his relationship with the Gupta family, saying he was free to visit the family’s Saxonwold homestead because it was in South Africa.
“My relationship with the Guptas is at (a) professional level and I have not benefited from that relationship,” Zwane said.
He made the comments when he appeared before the mineral resources committee, one of five others tasked to hold accountable cabinet ministers implicated in the “leaked” e-mails alleging state capture.
“I meet many businesspeople as I do my work. It is the same with this family,” he said.
Zwane questioned the interest in the Gupta family despite their controversial reputation.
“I am really asking myself, honourable members, why this family? Why does this committee just have an interest in my meeting with just one family?” Zwane asked.
The minister said if anybody had a problem with the Guptas, they should inform him.
“I can only tell this portfolio committee that if there is a need to meet them tomorrow, I will meet them publicly, anywhere, so that you are aware that I have no issue unless there is an issue that changes my view,” Zwane said.