‘Koko told me to take Guptas’ reject coal’
Zondo inquiry hears how former Eskom chief exercised undue influence in favour of a Gupta company
Former Eskom chief executive Matshela Koko’s hidden hand in influencing his staff to do the bidding of the Gupta family and accept “reject coal” for its power stations was revealed at the state capture inquiry on Monday.
The commission heard testimony from former Eskom general manager for fuel sourcing Johann Bester, and coal supply unit manager Gert Opperman, both of whom alluded to undue influence from Koko in relation to contracts with Tegeta Exploration and Resources, a company owned by the Gupta family.
Bester, in an emotional start to his testimony, spoke about the stress of serving in the position in 2014 and 2015, saying he resigned from the utility because his wife threatened to leave him. “She was aware of my unhappiness and I would bring my unhappiness home,” Bester said.
Koko was the group executive for generation at the time.
Reading from his statement, advocate Kate Hofmeyr – who led his evidence – alleged that Koko directly influenced one of his subordinates, Ayanda Ntetha. “You start to talk about significant pressure and focus starting in 2015 ... an awareness that Ntetha was being engaged directly by Koko although she reported to you and you say Koko never directly put pressure on me [Bester], but he did put pressure on her,” Hofmeyr said, reading from Bester’s statement. Opperman, who managed Eskom’s coal supply contract with the Brakfontein mine – owned by Tegeta – told the commission that after he rejected a consignment of coal in 2015, Koko called him directly and asked him to reverse his decision.
Opperman said that on September 7 2015 he received an e-mail from mine general manager Satish Mudaliar which contained a report from the South African Bureau of Standards on the results of coal stockpile analysis. Copied in on the e-mail was Tegeta executive Jacques Roux. “I was engaged by [Roux] who was also copied on that e-mail from Mudaliar to dispatch the stockpile to Majuba. What made it out of the ordinary is the fact that one of the quality parameters of this stockpile did not meet the contractual specifications. According to the contract this coal will now be termed reject coal. It is not contract coal and hence it cannot be dispatched,” Opperman said.
“As contract manager I don’t have the authority to make a decision to dispatch this coal. I immediately told him [Roux] you cannot dispatch this coal. I cannot support it. You need to either declare a dispute or you need to reprocess the coal. Roux was not pleased with my response.”
Opperman claims he received a call from Koko soon after. “I received a phone call from Koko asking me that I must please engage the Majuba power station to accept this product. I then engaged my senior at the time, [Vuyisile] Ncube, and I asked him what must I do. This is now an instruction that I must perform outside the mandate of the contract and he encouraged me to engage the power station,” he said. Opperman said he wrote to the power station instructing them to accept the consignment – to which it agreed.
Advocate Kate Hofemyr, who was leading Opperman’s evidence, asked him if he usually received calls from Koko about pre-certified coal that had not met quality specifications.
“No, it was not usual,” Opperman said.
“The intent was for me to engage the power station and get the power station’s approval to accept this coal ... The boundary of the contract does not allow me to approve dispatch of this product.”
Deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo, who chairs the commission, asked why Opperman complied with Koko’s instruction, knowing it was wrong.
“My viewpoint from the onset was not to go along with it. That’s why I was firm when I told [Roux] ... we cannot move this coal. For me that was the end of it. I never envisaged there would be some call from somewhere to deal with it different. When I received this call firstly, I was extremely surprised that Koko phoned me and then I get this instruction to do it. I would have loved Ncube saying to me don’t do it ... but that was not the advice that I got,” he said.
“I think talking about Koko’s management style and the way he will threaten or talk to people, all of those things, in that moment in time, is part of your life. When you are in the corridor, you hear how people are treated, people go on suspension, other people get dismissed.”
Bester’s testimony will continue on Tuesday.