Former Eskom board chairperson Dr Ben Ngubane has rejected the proposition made at the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture by the evidence leader Pule Seleka, that Ngubane could have given the Guptas and their associates “insight” into the affairs of the Eskom board in 2015.
Ngubane was back at the witness stand at the commission chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo to give Eskom-related testimony on Tuesday.
After the lunch adjournment, Zondo heard that a draft media statement exchanged via email between former Oakbay chief executive officer Nazeem Howa and Gupta business associate Salim Essa, which was to be read out and issued by Ngubane on 31 March 2015 following the resignation of former Eskom board chair, Zola Tsotsi, on 30 March 2015, was ultimately forwarded to Tony Gupta on the same day.
Ngubane told Zondo that he has no knowledge of the email with the draft media statement attached which was sent to Gupta.
Zondo heard that the email was sent by Howa to Gupta who responded with “okay”, which the commission’s chair said could mean the draft media statement was being approved.
Howa had sent the draft media statement to Essa for his “approval” a few minutes before forwarding it to Gupta, Zondo heard.
Ngubane told Zondo that he was not aware of any other board member who interacted with members of the Gupta family or their associates, Howa and Essa, the way that he did.
He recalled a media report from that time that had tried to link the board members to the Guptas.
Seleka said that since Ngubane only knew of his relationship with the Guptas, Howa and Essa as a board member, it leads one to the conclusion that the only way the Guptas and their associates “got insight into the board’s affairs” could be through Ngubane.
“That would be quite a serious allegation,” Ngubane responded, adding that he has associated with other businesspeople and “that doesn’t entitle people to treat me as a puppet”.
Ngubane told Zondo that he knew Howa because they had been both in the media industry and that that does not mean the former Oakbay CEO could “run Eskom through me”.
Seleka also suggested that the face behind “businessman” or “info portal” where emails emanated which contained instructions for the Eskom board was Essa since Ngubane knew Essa and the emails from “businessman” had been sent directly to the former Eskom chair.
“It’s a dangerous proposition because if you appear at the Zondo commission and something is said about you [it becomes known publicly] and therefore I reject that proposition,” Ngubane said.
Ngubane told Zondo that when he arrived at Eskom, Essa’s Trillian and global consultancy firm McKinsey “were very active at Eskom”.
“So If I say I can’t name a board member who knew Essa, it doesn’t mean that Essa did not have contact with other board members because he was at Eskom,” Ngubane said.
Zondo recalled that according to previous testimony at the commission by the former head of legal and compliance at Eskom, Suzanne Daniels, there was some relationship Essa had with then group executive of technology Matshela Koko and some interaction between her and the Gupta business associate.
Zondo pointed out that Koko is still expected to testify at the commission.
Seleka asked Ngubane not to be “upset” by the proposition, with Zondo interjecting to clarify that Seleka “is duty-bound to say what do you say if somebody were to think along those lines”.
Ngubane responded by urging that the commission’s investigators to look into who else did Essa interact with from the Eskom board.
Zondo said he is still expected to hear more Eskom-related testimony, including evidence relating to McKinsey.
Ngubane’s testimony continues, watch live courtesy of the SABC: