Former Eskom executive Matshela Koko. Picture: Bheki Radebe/African News Agency (ANA)

Johannesburg - The Zondo commission has heard how former Eskom executive Matshela Koko pressured for the power utility's coal supply division to accept substandard coal from Gupta-linked Tegeta's coal mine. 

Gert Opperman told the commission that in mid-2015 questions were being raised about the quality of the coal received from Tegeta's Brakfontein coal mine. The mine was supplying coal for Eskom's Majuba power substation. Opperman is a coal supply manager at the power utility and he was in charge of the Brakfontein contract. 

Opperman said there was pressure from Tegeta's representatives, through a series of emails, that he send out a stockpile on the coal to be received from the Brakfontein mine. He told the commission that he made it clear to Tegeta that he would not accept the stock as it did not meet the standards. 

He said after that he received a call from Koko telling him to accept the coal from Brakfontein and engage with Majuba power station on using the stock. 

Opperman consulted with his boss who also agreed that poor coal quality could not be accepted. He said he did not ask Koko why he wanted him to approve the use of poor quality coal for Majuba power station. After Koko's insistence, Majuba with the support of Opperman decided to accept the poor quality coal stockpile. 

"I received a phone call from Mr Koko asking me that I must please engage the Majuba power station to accept this product. I engaged Mr Ncube on what I must do because this was an instruction that I must perform outside of the mandate of the contract. He encouraged me to engage the power station. I drafted a follow-up email that would support the dispatch of coal from Brakfontein to Majuba. Majuba power station responded... agreeing that the stockpile could be dispatched," said Opperman.

The commission's chair deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo questioned Opperman on his about-turn and his decision to later support the acceptance of poor quality coal. Zondo asked why Opperman signed off when he had originally not supported the idea. 

Opperman said he agrees that what Koko wanted him to do was not lawful and ethical. 

Opperman said: "I can only work within the boundary of the contract. The contract did allow me to accept this. My advice to a supplier would be: you cannot dispatch this coal. I made it clear to my senior that I could not accept the poor quality and he insisted that I should honour the request (made by Koko)". 

A week ago the commission heard evidence contained in a statement from Mark van der Riet, who was part of an Eskom team appointed to investigate poor quality coal quality affecting Eskom power stations. 

Advocate Kate Hofmeyr, for the commission's legal team, read van der Riet's statement. He specialised in coal supply and had worked at Eskom for 30 years. 

Van der Riet wrote that a decision was taken that Eskom employees would observe the testing of coal supplies from Brakfontein which were done by Siboniswe Laboratories. Those tests showed that supplies from Brakfontein had failed 15 out of 30 samples.  

Van der Riet wrote that Tegeta had started raising issues that the officials at Siboniswe, an accredited laboratory, had demanded bribes. 

So a decision was taken for the samples to be tested by the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS). It was decided that van der Riet would attend the testing and ensure that samples were clean, but days before the testing he got a call from Koko who told him not to attend the sampling.

Van der Riet raised his concerns with Koko. 

The sampling went ahead without Eskom officials present and the Brakfontein coal sample passed the test above expectations. 

Van der Riet then continued with his investigation and disregarded the test supplied from SAB as no Eskom employee was present when the testing took place. 

"He had started to compile a report in preparation to submit to Eskom, but was unable to do so because he was suspended the following week for 32 months," Hofmeyr said. 

"For the next two years, Eskom lost his services, but he was exonerated later and was reinstated back at work on 1 May 2018."

The inquiry continues. 

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