Former Minister of Mineral Resources Ngoako Ramatlhodi takes the stand at the state capture commission. Photo: Dimpho Maja/ African News Agency (ANA)

JOHANNESBURG -  Former Eskom board chairman Ben Ngubane met with former minerals minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi in September 2015 in a bid to convince him to revoke the mining licences of Glencore, the then owner of Optimum Coal Mine, the state capture commission of inquiry heard on Wednesday. 

The meeting happened the same day former president Jacob Zuma prepared to travel to China on September 2 that year, Ramatlhodi said.

Disgraced former Eskom CEO Brian Molefe, accused of doing the bidding of the Guptas at the power utility and at Transnet, demanded that Eskom stop sourcing coal from Optimum as soon as he arrived to take over at Eskom as the country experienced power outages, the former minister testified.

''Hendrina in Mpumalanga is a coal-fired power station built next to Optimum mine. A conveyor belt gets the coal from the mine into the power station. We were in the middle of power outages at the time. [Brian] Molefe was moved from Transnet to Eskom. Upon his arrival, he suspended collection of coal from Optimum. His reasons were that Glencore owed Eskom R2 billion [in fines] and he wanted the money,'' said Ramatlhodi.

The former minister said he met with Molefe at a hotel in Waterfall, Midrand on 1 September in 2015. He said Molefe agreed to open negotiations with Glencore.

Molefe then informed Ramatlhodi that the chairman wanted to meet with him the next day. Molefe referred to former Eskom board chairman Ben Ngubane.

''I realised that something did not make I invited department officials to attend that meeting in our offices in Pretoria. Ngubane then demanded that I should revoke all Glencore mining licences, overriding the agreement I had with Molefe. I said to him such cannot be done,'' Ramatlhodi said.

Ngubane told him he had the power as a minister, and insisted that he revoke the licence before Zuma travelled overseas that day.

''I told him we do not take decisions like that without due processes. I said we were in the middle of power outages, and you want me to take away licences? How many Glencore mines are supplying coal to our power stations? I do not even have that information. Don't you want us to go in to a phased approach regarding this so that it is properly done? If I suspend licenses it means workers are going to lose jobs and we are not going to have any more electricity and that will undermine investors.''

Ngubane told him he was going to tell Zuma, insinuating that the president would hear about Ramatlhodi's refusal before he travels abroad. Molefe remained silent in the meeting. Ramatlhodi said he stood his ground and told Ngubane to go report his stance to the former president.

Zuma returned from China after a week and requested to meet Ramatlhodi. He told him he would be moved to the public service and administration ministry following the death of former minister Collins Chabane. Ramatlhodi's tenure at the minerals ministry ended as Zuma reshuffled his cabinet, replacing him with Gupta appointee Mosebenzi Zwane.

Molefe reinstated the R2.1 billion fine dispute against Glencore that was imposed for low quality coal. Optimum then went into business rescue as negotiations with Eskom to keep it operational and supply Hendrina with coal failed. Optimum was put up for sale, and the Guptas started talks to purchase the mine. The Guptas' Oakbay Resources and Energy used R695 million in pre-payment for coal it received from Eskom to purchase Optimum through Tegeta, another Gupta company. Eskom, had in a way, bought a coal mine for the Guptas, the commission heard.

African News Agency (ANA)