President Cyril Ramaphosa made his return to the State Capture Inquiry‘s hot seat on Wednesday where he appeared in his capacity as second-in-command to former president Jacob Zuma.
Cyril Ramaphosa at State Capture Inquiry
The rise and fall of the Eskom war room
Evidence leader Advocate Pule Seleka wasted no time getting into the crux of Ramaphosa’s second showing at the commission chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo.
Following an opening statement made by the president, where he stood on the side of justice in the state capture saga, Seleka went into questioning Ramaphosa about his role in the shoddy dealings that took place at Eskom between 2015 and 2016.
At the time, in his capacity as deputy president, Ramaphosa was tasked with heading up the so-called ‘war room’ the was set up to address the electricity challenges facing the country.
This make-shift committee was made up of the Departments of Energy, Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Public Enterprises, National Treasury, Economic Development, Water and Sanitation and Eskom, as well as technical officials.
Ramaphosa explained his role at the war room, as instructed by Zuma, was to provide oversight and feed outcomes on the progress of the implementation of the Five-Point Plan to the Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) on Energy which he chaired, at the time.
The shoddy appointment of Brian Molefe
He admitted to DCJ Zondo that after noticing the many entry points into influencing decision-making at the power utility, he’d advised Zuma to disband the war room and appoint an executive to head up the flailing state-owned entity.
This is where things get a little muddy since, in his own words, Ramaphosa informed the commission that his recommendation to Zuma, at the time, was to appoint the disgraced CEO Brian Molefe.
Salim Essa, a renowned Gupta foot soldier, has been fingered in a number of State Capture Inquiry testimonies as the person closest to the corruption syndicate that allegedly predicted Molefe’s 2015 appointment at Eskom a year before it happened.
Ramaphosa offered a different version of how Molefe ended up at Eskom and in his own words, the former executive was his recommendation to Zuma after four executives, including former CEO Tshediso Matona, finance director, Tsholofelo Molefe, and two others, were ousted for reasons that remain shrouded in controversy.
“Within the context of everything else that was happening which, context would also lead me to the decision that I then took, to go to President Zuma and say ‘I think we should close the war room’ because as these suspensions happened, I suddenly realised that there were just too many initiatives that were all happening at the same time… To deal with issues that you raised as a concern for me, was to say, let’s close this room and let’s have one entry point into Eskom,” Ramaphosa explained.
Ramaphosa added that he was the person who advised the former president to appoint Molefe as CEO of Eskom.
“He had proven himself to be quite an effective CEO and let’s give him the responsibility so then there will be one entry point and then all of us would then stop what we were trying to do with regard to Eskom because it leads to confusion,” the president said.
This version of Molefe’s rise to the top of the power utility created loopholes in previous evidence provided by former minister Lynne Brown who’s been candid in alleging that Molefe’s name as the sole candidate to head up Eskom was fielded by Zuma.
Now, it seems, Molefe’s candidacy may have been conceptualised by Ramaphosa, if the claim about Essa’s knowledge of the appointment a year prior is to be disregarded.
Concerning the latter, Ramaphosa categorically stated that he knew nothing about and if indeed, such meetings were held months prior to his recommendation to Zuma, it was pure coincidence.
The commission was on a lunch break at the time this article was published.