Ben Ngubane File picture: Melinda Stuurman/Independent Media
When Dr Ben Ngubane was South Africa’s ambassador to Japan be­tween 2004 and 2008, his counterparts from other African states told him about lucrative business opportunities in the oil and gas drilling sectors in the west of the continent.

Ngubane, a former KwaZulu-Natal premier who resigned under a cloud this week as chairperson of the state’s energy entity, Eskom, told Independent Media that at the end of his tour of duty in Japan he returned home, motivated to explore these mining opportunities.

His interest was concentrated on the Central African Republic (CAR), where he had been told gas and oil were in abundance, and drilling opportunities were freely available.

The former IFP leader whose name features prominently in the leaked Gupta e-mails relating to state capture, and also in the then public protector Thuli Madonsela’s State of Capture Report, confirmed that he and businessman Salim Essa, an associate of the Guptas, had travelled to the CAR in 2013 to strike a deal.

Ngubane said Essa had been keen to partner him.

“The plan was to go to West Africa and to buy oil blocks. Another company from India was going to drill these blocks - and we were going to sell the oil for huge sums of money,” he said.

He said Essa had arranged a trip to the CAR for March 2013, with the Guptas having made a private jet available to them for the journey.

“It was a simple arrangement he was trying to make. But then we decided not to go,” said Ngubane.

The trip was called off because of the civil war that was raging in the CAR at that time, he said.

“I said to him: ‘We can’t go there. We cannot get involved in that part of the world. It is too unstable and too dangerous.’

“That’s where the talk ended,” Ngubane said.

He complained that his critics were now using his relationship with Essa as a stick with which to beat him, accusing him of being a Gupta crony.

“Now I am told that a copy of my passport is with the Guptas. That is nonsense,” said Ngubane.

SCATHING

He was scathing in his response to Madonsela’s report, describing it as “a creation to try to bring down any black company or person wanting to enter the area of commerce that white companies dominate”.

“Any business person, as long as they do business legally, are above board, and are accountable to the legislation of the country and to the regulatory authorities, can do business in South Africa. As black people, we must also be allowed to enter that space,” he said.

Even after resigning, Ngubane said, he and members of the Eskom board were being subjected to an investigation by the portfolio committee on public enterprises. Their problems escalated after they had rehired Brian Molefe as Eskom chief executive officer. This decision was criticised by all political parties, including the ANC.

The investigation will also consider the procurement of coal and allegations that the board unfairly replaced Glencore’s Optimum mining company with the Guptas’ Tegeta mining operation in a deal to supply coal to Eskom.

Ngubane said he and Molefe were being attacked because of their closeness to President Jacob Zuma.

Although he claimed to be more than ready to appear before the investigating committee, he expressed doubts that he would get a fair hearing. He said he had learnt to disrespect MPs from the time they probed him when he was the chairperson of the SABC board.

“I have no faith in that process. It is like the SABC exercise. These people did not do any due diligence. They use what was in the press. They use disgruntled SABC officials to feed them rubbish - and they wasted a lot of my time asking me rubbish. I hope this is not a repeat of that exercise," he said.

Click here to Follow the Sunday Tribune on Twitter

Or Click here if you prefer to like the Tribune on Facebook

SUNDAY TRIBUNE