On Tuesday, in an exclusive by amaBhungane, published by Eye Witness News (EWN), former mining minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi claims he was effectively elbowed out of his job after failing to revoke the mining licence of resource giant Glencore, whose Optimum mine was later purchased by the Gupta family.
It's like in the high streets, if the local armed gangsters comes along to a small shop and disrupts things, so that all its customers go away and the business becomes insolvent, and then says we'll buy it from you at an effectively lower price and take it off your hands
The sale of Optimum is described as a hostile takeover, with Glencore essentially being forced sell to the Guptas. Eskom has since denied all allegations levelled against it.
Ramatlhodi told amaBhungane how Eskom board chairman Ben Ngubane and CEO Brian Molefe -- who resigned last year in light of the findings of the public protector's state of capture report and was reinstated last week -- had demanded that he suspend all Glencore's mining licences in South Africa, pending the payment of a R2.17-billion penalty. This was, in essence, a form of economic blackmail. Ramatlhodi alleges that he refused to do this, and then, the country witnessed how President Jacob Zuma unexplainably moved him from his portfolio and replaced him with Mosebenzi Zwane a few weeks later.
Glencore had placed Optimum into business rescue at the time after Eskom reneged on an agreement to renegotiate its contract to supply the Hendrina station with coal -- a deal Glencore said was causing it to make a loss.
Sam Sole, the co-author of the amaBhungane report, said that this new information "adds layers" to the public protector's state of capture report, in which Brian Molefe was implicated, and "emphasises the question mark that the public protector's report placed over his [Molefe's] head".
"The extent of the Gupta empire is still being unraveled", said Sole.
Sole explained the methods used, as detailed in the state of capture report, were "strong-arm tactics".
He explained the Optimum mine take-over through a small scale analogy of a hypothetical example: "It's like in the high streets, if the local armed gangsters comes along to a small shop and disrupts things, so that all its customers go away and the business becomes insolvent, and then says we'll buy it from you at a lower price and take it off your hands". This is effectively what happened with the Optimum mine. The Guptas paid just over R2 billion for the mine, they "got it very cheaply".
The amaBhungane report shows the extensive range of the Guptas' influence -- other assets were packaged in the deal apart from just the mine. "It's about our decision-making in government and in parastatals that is not happening in the best interests of the country and the best interests of the institutions that are supposed to be at the forefront of those decisions; they happen for other reasons," said Sole.
According to Sole, the new information that has been uncovered is highly significant.
"What's shocking and what we should all realise is that what's happening is happening right before our eyes. Molefe has been reappointed despite all of this hanging over his head; and it's a question of [ministers] becoming so desperate that now that they're acting in a brazen way, and South Africans have to stand up and say not in our name."