Former department of mineral resources (DMR) director-general Thibedi Ramontja. Screengrab

Johannesburg - A former department of mineral resources (DMR) director-general has told the Zondo commission that former minister Mosebenzi Zwane started the job with Gupta-linked advisers who were given free rein. 

Dr Thibedi Ramontja told the commission that when Zwane was appointed in 2015 he brought in three advisers; Kuben Moodley, Malcolm Mabaso and Zarina Kellerman. Mabaso and Moodley were linked to the Guptas. 

He said the advisers acted outside of their mandate and were given permission to overstep on their roles. Ramontja said this was a frustrating time and he would often be sidestepped with his staff taking instructions from the advisers. 

He said he often felt frustrated and marginalised by the environment fostered by Zwane. 

Ramontja said in December 2015 he was called into a meeting, which he assumed would be addressed by Zwane, but was called into Mabaso’s office. He said Mabaso told him that Zwane wanted him to resign and he had to submit his resignation within 20 minutes. 

Ramontja said he was shocked that he was being told this by an adviser to the minister while he reported directly to the minister and Zwane was in the next office but had shifted the responsibility to his adviser. 

The former DG decided not to fight the request and wrote his resignation letter and decided to stay on until the end of January 2016. 

Days before he was asked to resign, Ramontja said Zwane had taken a trip Zurich in Switzerland. That trip was where Zwane negotiated on behalf of the Guptas for the purchase of Optimum Holdings from Glencore. Zwane had denied that he ever went to Zurich, but Ramontja confirmed that the trip happened and Zwane was accompanied by the department's deputy director general. 

There were official documents which confirm the trip as Ramontja had signed off on the costs of the trip. 

Ramontja also told the inquiry about two letters, one written by former Eskom executive Matshela Koko and another signed by him in response to Koko. 

Koko’s letter was alarming as it was addressed to the DMR stating that Eskom could face a coal crisis. Ramontja admitted that he signed a response letter but said he did not draft it. 

Ramontja’s signed response did not deal with issues of a crisis that Koko had addressed. It spoke broadly about Optimum coal mine sale and change of ownership. 

Commission chair deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo asked Ramontja why he signed the letter if he believes it misrepresented the facts. Ramontja said in hindsight he should have paid attention to what was signing. 

He admitted that those letters were drafted to mislead him and the department. 

Ramontja concluded his testimony. 

The inquiry continues with the testimony of former finance Nhlanhla Nene. 

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