Ajay and Atul Gupta File picture: Independent Media

Former Eskom CEO Brian Dames on Wednesday dropped a bombshell at the parliamentary inquiry into the power utility, telling MPs he was pressed for coal contracts by one of the Gupta brothers at a meeting arranged by an advisor to embattled South African Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba.

"I was asked to meet with them by a ministerial advisor," Dames told the inquiry in response to a question from Democratic Alliance MP Natasha Mazzone.

The chairwoman of the portfolio committee on public enterprises, Zukiswa Rantho, asked him to be more specific and name the minister as well as his advisor.

"It was an advisor to Minister Gigaba, I think his name was Siyabonga Mahlangu," he replied.

"He arranged a meeting where I was present. It was a very strange meeting."

Dames headed Eskom from 2010 to 2014, and Gigaba served as public enterprises minister at the time. He has repeatedly featured in leaked emails detailing the dealings of the controversial Gupta family with government entities, which prompted the inquiry into Eskom's affairs.

Dames said somebody he "assumed was one of the Gupta brothers" made three requests pertaining to coal supply during the meeting, after telling him: "We think we can work with you."

He said his response was to inform Mahlangu that he would not entertain a meeting of this kind. 

"I said: 'You will not bring those people to me again.'"

Economic Freedom Fighters chief whip Floyd Shivambu drew laughs when he held up a tablet with a picture of Ajay, Atul and Tony Gupta and asked whether it was one of them who he was lured to meet. 

Dames said that he could not unequivocally identify the individual as at they time they were not yet household names. But he insisted that he believed he could assume that it was one of the Gupta brothers, and added that the meeting took place at the offices of Sahara Computers, which belongs to the family.

Dames also told the inquiry that he had observed a worrying level of interference by the Eskom board into the operational management of the power utility.

He said he had raised his concerns with Gigaba, who eventually arranged a meeting meant to ease tension between himself and Eskom chairman Zola Tsotsi. 

Tsotsi accused him of being arrogant, and he in turn urged him not to interfere in the operational matters of Eskom and not to contact suppliers.

"Suppliers were being engaged directly and I did not think it was correct," Dames added. He said though he could not pinpoint a "tangible" transgression, there were telltale signs of meddling by the board and while reading about problems at Transnet in the media, it dawned on him that these were mirrored at Eskom.

Former finance minister Pravin Gordhan suggested that Dames should "join the dots" between his observations and the current allegations of state capture, but the former CEO said he did not have firm evidence implicating anybody in corruption,

His testimony came almost exactly a year after then Public Protector Thuli Madonsela released her report "State of Capture". In the report, she said it appeared that Eskom had given Tegeta Exploration, which is controlled by the Gupta family, a contract to supply coal to its Arnot power station, plus prepayments, with the sole aim of enabling it to buy out Optimum Coal Holdings. 

Dames said he eventually resigned because of interference in the running of Eskom. Colin Matjila, a member of the Eskom board then served as acting CEO for some six months.

Dames told the inquiry that Matjila had pressed him to change the tender process for extending the lifespan of the Koeberg nuclear power plant. The contract was eventually awarded to French company Areva, on Matjila's watch, and prompting a legal challenge from Westinghouse.

The committee also heard testimony from Ted Blom from civic rights group Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa), a former Eskom employee, who said corruption, particularly around coal contracts, was so rife at Eskom that the only way of getting to the bottom of it would be to declare a general amnesty for staff who disclosed wrongdoing. 

- African News Agency (ANA)