Zola Tsotsi tells Zondo commission: I met the Guptas out of fear for ubaba
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Johannesburg - Former Eskom board chairperson Zola Tsotsi has had to explain events that led to him meeting one of the Gupta brothers, at the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture on Tuesday.
Tsotsi was questioned about three meetings he held with Tony Gupta in 2014.
At the time, he was the chairperson of Eskom’s board.
He told the commission he agreed to meet Tony Gupta on three occasions because he feared reprisal from former president Jacob Zuma.
Tsotsi further explained the first meeting took place at the Gupta residence in Saxonwold.
Gupta was interested in Tsotsi supporting the family’s desire to enter into a gas contract with Eskom in the Western Cape.
Tsotsi said he explained he had no knowledge of such a contract but agreed he would inquire on behalf of the Guptas.
On the second meeting, which also took place at Guptas’ residence in Saxonwold, Tony asked Tsotsi if he could ensure that a “guy of his” who was then employed at MTN be appointed as the head of procurement at Eskom.
Tsotsi said he expressed his reservations but investigated whether such a role existed.
“I said they would have to ask people in procurement if there was a position. I thought he (Gupta) was looking for a form of support. I think he wanted me to pull strings for him. I established later the person did go and work for Eskom, chair,” Tsotsi explained.
In the third meeting, which took place at the Gupta’s Sahara Computer offices in Midrand, Tsotsi said Gupta wanted him to intervene in an Eskom audit which found Eskom’s sponsorship of The New Age, a Gupta-owned newspaper, was irregularly entered into.
Tsotsi said Gupta became visibly upset when he explained he was unable to intervene.
Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, the chairperson of the inquiry, probed Tsotsi on why he felt it necessary to entertain meetings with Gupta.
Zondo also took issue with why Tsotsi, like many other witnesses who have admitted to meeting with the Guptas, chose to go to the Gupta family house instead of holding the meetings somewhere else.
Tsotsi said it was a well established fact the Gupta family would ask everyone to meet at their residence.
Zondo also questioned Tsotsi on what he feared would happen if he did not meet with the family.
Tsotsi conceded he feared being seen as an “enemy of ubaba” as the Guptas would often use Zuma’s name if someone refused to assist the family.
“That is an interesting question. There was a well-known situation regarding them (Guptas) and their relationship with the president.
“I heard of instances where people were supposedly threatened by them if they could not give them whatever assistance they needed and they would report them to the president.
“I would have had the displeasure of the president if I did not agree. I would have been reprimanded by the president or told to assist them, which is what happened to my colleagues,” he said.
Tsotsi had also told the inquiry how Zuma had called him in January 2015 and told him an Eskom board meeting scheduled for the next day should not take place.
He said Zuma never gave him an explanation on why the meeting should not take place. It was unusual that Zuma, as a head of state, would call for the meeting to be suspended, Tsotsi said.
Zondo asked: “Was that on its own not strange that the president asked you to postpone the meeting?”
Tsotsi replied: “I did not understand why I got a message from the president to that effect. I do concede I could have asked him why he wanted the meeting postponed.”
Zondo said he could not think of any other reason why someone would seek a postponement of a meeting besides the fact that he or she did not want certain matters discussed.
Tsotsi has concluded his testimony.