Brian Molefe’s public sobbing forgotten as he shows humorous side at Zondo Commission
Johannesburg - Former Eskom chief executive Brian Molefe was triumphal in his return to the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture, even succeeding on a few occasions in getting commission chair Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo to chuckle at his jokes.
Gone were the much publicised tears of November 2016, when Molefe made mention of former Public Protector Advocate Thuli Madonsela, who found in her damning report that there was “cellphone evidence revealing that Molefe and Ajay Gupta, the eldest of three Gupta brothers, made 58 telephone calls to one another between August 2015 and March 2016”.
In the two days – Tuesday and Wednesday – that Molefe was on the stand at the Zondo Commission, the public spectacle he put on was full of mirth, no tears, when he mentioned his nemesis by name, the erstwhile public protector.
In the explosive state capture report, Madonsela had found that Molefe and several Eskom executives enabled the Gupta-owned Tegeta’s acquisition of Optimum Coal Mine.
In his element this past week, Molefe told the Zondo Commission that “Madonsela had failed to interview the people she implicated at Eskom for her report”.
The aim of the Madonsela report was to create a narrative of malfeasance “and to find any evidence that linked Eskom executives to the [Gupta] family”, Molefe said on Tuesday.
Madonsela’s report found that Molefe had spoken to the Gupta brothers 44 times and visited their Saxonwold home 19 times.
For a while after the report was released – and Molefe broke down in public – the phantom Saxonwold shebeen provided the fodder for social media jokes and the canvas for cartoonists.
This past week Molefe got his own back, retrieving material from his arsenal of jokes.
The report was a witch hunt that merely sought to find “any scrap of evidence that you were next to the Guptas at any point”, Molefe told the Zondo Commission.
If one had just arrived from Mars to catch Molefe on the stand at the Zondo Commission, one would have been forgiven in thinking the former chief executive was a scapegoat throughout the entire Gupta-Eskom saga.
He was quick to wash his hands of any suspect managerial conduct, it appeared.
He had no idea, for example, how the hefty R1.68-billion prepayment Eskom made to Tegeta to obtain Optimum was actioned, as he was at home sick at the time and preparing to go under the surgeon’s knife.
He either did not recall some of the pertinent detail that Zondo needed to run by him as he was not yet at the power utility or, as in the case of the penalty owed by Optimum to Eskom, it was the bean counters who arrived at the figure.
“One of them was even here to tell the commission how that figure was calculated,” Molefe said, asking Zondo if the latter did not recall such a witness before him.
Molefe told the commission that “I had no responsibility for Optimum going bankrupt, my primary responsibility was Eskom”.
It was with this fiduciary duty in mind that he relentlessly went on a campaign to “collect what was due to Eskom”.
And what was due was the R2.17billion owed by Optimum.
“I was persecuted for trying to collect,” he said of the debt.
He deftly avoided putting the blame at the door of Optimum chairman at the time, Cyril Ramphosa, whose name fell easily off his lips in the two days he was in the hot seat.
“It was a coincidence,” he finally admitted, when asked by Zondo if it was Ramaphosa’s machinations that allowed Optimum to sidestep paying the penalty, that would later dwindle to R255 million.
“When I left, it was still outstanding,” Molefe said, adding the perspective that he had quit in December 2016.
What informed his frame of mind was that the government was lax in collecting due payment, he told the commission.
He was aware of Optimum’s shenanigans from his time at Transnet, Molefe said. By the time he arrived at Eskom, the jig was up for the coal mine company.
“I saw both sides of the coin, and I did not like it,” he said.
Optimum, in his view, were arrogant in their dealings with Eskom because “they felt they had a good relationship with the deputy president”.
He portrayed himself to Zondo as the proverbial new broom when he arrived at Eskom.
“We are in trouble. We are collapsing,” he said of his assessment of Eskom when he joined. “When I arrived, I was told we’d not be able to pay salaries in the coming three months.”
The only option available to him “for a person in my position”, as he described his predicament to Zondo, was to act in the best interests of Eskom only. He cracked the whip and, according to Molefe, he invited the ire of those who then saw fit to persecute him.
Optimum, a cost-plus entity, was a liability for Eskom, and what he was only doing was looking after the interests of the parent company of Eskom, the Republic of South Africa, Molefe said.
Buoyed by such a positive showing on his first day, he duly obliged when asked for a second bite of the cherry the next day.
His chatty lunch-time conduct towards evidence leader Pule Seleka was a far cry from the adversarial dynamics of the Zuma-Pretorius relationship.
Molefe had a ball!