Cape Town – Former Oakbay CEO Nazeem Howa and Gupta associate Salim Essa prepared statements detailing the problems at Eskom and the board’s resolution that senior executives should “step aside” as well as the resignation of board chairman Zola Tsotsi.
This bombshell emerged at the Zondo commission of inquiry into allegations of state capture on Tuesday when former board chairperson Dr Ben Ngubane returned to the witness stand.
At Ngubane’s previous appearance before the commission in September, he testified that he knew both Essa and Howa before being appointed to the Eskom board and had previously entered into a business partnership with the former.
He was adamant that this friendship had nothing to do with his appointment to the Eskom board.
The commission heard on Tuesday that Essa and Howa prepared statements dated March 19 and 21.
The actual meeting took place on March 30 between 8pm and 10pm, but according to Ngubane, the informal discussions continued until after midnight.
At that meeting, the board advised Tsotsi to resign or face a vote of no confidence.
Ngubane testified that Tsotsi pleaded with the board not to do this as it would severely impact his ability to earn a living from serving on the boards of other companies.
Commission chairperson Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo expressed concern after evidence leader Advocate Pule Seleka presented an emailed statement from Tony Gupta to Nazeem Howa dated March 19 – 11 days before the board meeting – announcing Tsotsi’s resignation which would later be read by Ngubane.
The subject line of the email was “The statement from a new board”.
“That raises a concern if somebody told Mr Howa in advance what the board was going to decide. Who was that? And did she or he know the board would make those decisions?” Zondo asked.
Zondo questioned whether it was possible that somebody who wanted Tsotosi fired “might have gone around to canvass support from board members, and told Mr Howa this is what the board will decide.”
He went on to question the independence of the board in the light of the evidence before the commission.
“That would be very concerning if somebody from within the board tells people outside of Eskom about decisions likely to be made by the board,” Zondo mused.
“It is even more worrying if the position is that Mr Howa and Mr Essa were making decisions outside of Eskom that they wanted the board to take, and they had an expectation the board would take those decisions.
“That would mean the board is not acting independently but is manipulated by people outside.”
Ngubane denied having seen the email before but conceded that it bore remarkable similarities to the statement which was prepared for him by the company secretary at the time.
He said earlier in the day that Eskom was like “a leaky sieve” and that confidential information was regularly shared via SMS.