Johannesburg - Ngoako Ramatlhodi says he was removed as the minister of mineral resources by former president Jacob Zuma because of his refusal to bow to pressure to help the Gupta family grab hold of Optimum coal mine from its former owners Glencore.
Ramatlhodi told the Zondo commission on Tuesday that his removal from mineral resources and his appointment as the minister of public service and administration was “punishment” and not a “promotion” as Zuma claimed at the time.
His removal in 2015 stemmed from his refusal to accede to requests from Eskom board chairman Ben Ngubane who wanted him to suspend the licence of Glencore which was supplying coal to Eskom through its mining company Optimum.
Ramatlhodi said he felt intimidated by Ngubane and refused to agree to suspend Glencore’s licence. He said the country was going through load shedding at the time and he felt such a decision was unlawful and would cripple the country and cause job losses.
“Dr Ngubane demanded that I must take the licenses that Glencore had. I said to him that such a thing cannot be done and he said, 'you are the minister you have the power to do this'. I told him that I do not take decisions like that without due process. We are in the middle of power outages here and you want me to take licences like that,” said Ramatlhodi.
“I asked, 'don't you want us to go into a phased approach? So that when I make a decision I would have to and look at the organisation as well because there are implications as well'. If I suspend licences that means workers are going to lose jobs and we are not going to have electricity,” he said.
The former minister said Ngubane then threatened to tell Zuma, which he said he could go ahead a do so.
“And then he said he will tell the president. I took that as if he was intimidating me that if I do not do it he was going to tell the president. He had been sent by the president, that's my impression because he mentioned that he would report back. I said okay tell him,” said Ramathlodi.
When Zuma came back from an international visit a week after Ramatlhodi met with Ngubane, Zuma asked him to attend a meeting at his home in Pretoria. It was in that meeting where Ramathlodi was removed as the minister of mineral resources.
“He congratulated me on the job I was doing at mineral resources and he wanted to wish me well and said I was being promoted to public service and administration. He then said that portfolio needed someone with experience. We serve at the will of the president as ministers. I did not inquire why I was being moved,” he said.
When asked by commission chair deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo what his thoughts were on his removal, Ramatlhodi said he felt he was being removed because he would not cooperate with Zuma regarding the Glencore issue.
“I refused to cooperate with him in minerals (DMR) and I was removed because I felt we were doing good and were being forced to do wrong things. The promotion was the punishment to send a message,” said Ramatlhodi.
“Once I got out there a Gupta minister came in. A man who is known and who confesses to being (a Gupta associate) replaces you and all of a sudden Optimum Mine is sold to the Guptas,” he said.
Ramatlhodi was replaced by Mosebezeni Zwane who is known to have a close relationship with the Gupta family.
When he was the minister of public service and administration, he was fired in 2017, a decision he believes was because he would not appoint Mzwanele Manyi as director-general of the department.
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