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How Eskom didn’t try to save mine from Guptas

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How Eskom didn’t try to save mine from Guptas

Between the Gordhan cross-examination fracas and yet more trouble for Vytjie Mentor, it was a trying day for Zondo

Journalist


Deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo had his hands full at the state capture inquiry on Wednesday, with a quick succession of testimonies around Eskom and former ANC MP Vytjie Mentor.
This was followed by a two-hour heated debate over whether disgraced former SA Revenue Service boss Tom Moyane should be allowed to cross-examine one of his biggest detractors, Pravin Gordhan.
The day ended with testimony from business rescue practitioner Piers Marsden, who, along with Peter van de Steen, were appointed to assist the Optimum Coal Mine and its holding company when Glencore declared it would be going into business rescue in 2015.
He spoke about how the business rescue practitioners tried to negotiate with Eskom ways to save the mine from going under, but there was no sense of urgency from the electricity utility’s side.
This was at the time when Eskom was under the leadership of state capture-implicated Brian Molefe. The Zondo inquiry has since heard various testimonies on how the mine’s dealings with the utility were sabotaged, including the imposition of a R2.1bn fine for substandard coal and also refusing to renegotiate its coal supply agreement.
At the time the Gupta family, through their company Tegeta Exploration and Resources, were actively lobbying for the purchase of Optimum from Glencore, a deal that eventually went through in December that year. Marsden told the commission that when he started with the business rescue process, he found the mine was supplying coal to Eskom at R150 a ton delivered (as per its contract), but it cost between R430 to R450 a ton to produce. The mine was relying on its major shareholder, Optimum Coal Holdings, for funds to bridge the gap.
He tried to engage Eskom about an interim coal supply agreement and thereafter a long-term solution that “would have resulted in a more sustainable business for the mine”.
“We didn’t get the view that the urgency placed on us as practitioners was necessarily reciprocated by Eskom,” he said.
Vytjie Mentor’s testimony under the spotlight
Before Marsden took the stand, former ANC MP Vytjie Mentor’s testimony suffered yet another knock when one of her colleagues, Hlengiwe Mgabadeli, said she could not recall Mentor disclosing to her an offer by one of the Gupta brothers for the public enterprises ministerial post.
Mentor previously told the commission she may have confided in Mgabadeli, who previously served as an ANC MP, in 2010 after she was taken to the Guptas’ Saxonwold home. There, Mentor claimed, former president Jacob Zuma was present and Ajay Gupta offered her the job of public enterprises minister in exchange for doing the family’s bidding once she took up the role.
“I’ve got nothing against Mentor, she’s my sister, she’s my comrade, she’s my neighbour, but I just don’t recall her telling me,” Mgabadeli said.
This is not the first time Mentor’s testimony has been disputed.
Last month, experts tasked by the commission to do a visual inspection of the Guptas’ home testified they did not find any features Mentor had seen when she was taken there in 2010.
Gordhan vs Moyane
Zondo’s busy day started from 9am when lawyers representing Gordhan clashed with Dali Mpofu, who was on the stand on behalf of Moyane. The legal to-and-fro lasted two hours. Gordhan’s lawyer Michelle le Roux argued the concerns raised in Moyane’s application to cross-examine her client had already been dealt with by retired judge Robert Nugent in his investigation into the tax and governance issues at the revenue collector. She said Zondo should not have to “console” Moyane’s feelings at taxpayers’ expense by allowing him the opportunity to cross-examine Gordhan.
“In another category of issues that could, at best, be described as personality issues, he [Moyane] talks about racism, acrimomy, hate and grudges. Time and money should not be spent on consoling Moyane’s feelings,” she said. But Mpofu remained resolute, claiming racism as he went on the offensive. Moyane, through Mpofu, alleges Gordhan is racist and has an agenda against him, further referring to a phone call in which Gordhan allegedly told Moyane to “grow up”. Mpofu argued this amounted to racism because it implied that Moyane was a “boy”.
“The things that he implicates Moyane in, most of them amount to criminal activity, and if that is the case then at the highest level, the only way Moyane can defend his integrity against such accusations can only be done in cross-examination,” Mpofu argued.
But Zondo said: “What I was looking for is the issue of the grounds [for the application to cross-examine]. My understanding of the rules is when you apply for leave to cross-examine, you must make it clear what parts of the witness’s evidence you dispute and you must say what your version is in reference to those parts.”
He reserved his judgment on the matter.
The inquiry continues on Thursday with testimony from former mineral resources director-general Thibedi Ramontja and former finance boss Nhlanhla Nene.

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