Matshela Koko ordered Eskom to accept dodgy coal from Gupta mine, inquiry hears
Former acting Eskom boss Matshela Koko allegedly used his influence to lobby the utility’s Majuba power station to accept substandard coal from the Gupta’s Brakfontein mine.
Koko’s alleged “hidden hand” was raised in testimony by Eskom coal supply unit manager Gert Opperman at the state capture inquiry on Monday.
Opperman‚ who managed Eskom’s coal supply contract with the Brakfontein mine, owned by the Gupta family’s Tegeta Exploration and Resources, 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 SA Bureau of Standards on the results of a coal stockpile analysis. Copied in 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 would now be termed reject coal — it is not contract coal and hence it cannot be dispatched‚” said Opperman.
“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 claimed 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. He encouraged me to engage the power station‚” he said.
Opperman said he then wrote to the power station‚ instructing them to accept the consignment — which they agreed to do.
Advocate Kate Hofmeyr‚ 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‚” said Opperman. “The intent was for me to engage the power station and get the power station 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 despite 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 differently.
“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 if Ncube had said to me‚ ‘Don’t do it’ ... but that was not the advice that I got‚” he said.
Opperman suggested that disobeying Koko would have cost him his job.
“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‚ [it] is part of your life. When you’re in the corridor‚ you hear how people are treated. People go on suspension‚ other people get dismissed.”