Gordhan, Koko Bombshells Bruise State Capture Narrative

The cross-examination of Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan and testimony of former Eskom excutive Matshela Koko have put a massive dent in the state capture narrative.

Bombshell 1. Gordhan conceded to the State Capture Commission that he had no evidence to prove SARS Commissioner Tom Moyane conspired with the Hawks & National Prosecuting Authority. 

Bombshell 2. Koko accused President Cyril Ramaphosa of meddling in Eskom affairs, claiming the President axed him from the power utility because Optimum, a company whose board he chaired, owed Eskom R1.4bn.  

Bombshell 3: Koko also said three judges had found he negotiated a contract with McKinsey Trillian at a time when he was at home on suspension. 


ON display at the State Capture Commission last week were two witnesses that have come to symbolise the binary narrative of state capture – the villains on the one hand and the angels on the other. 

The week started off with Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan who was pivotal in the establishment of the State of Capture Report by former public protector Thuli Madonsela and he later became one of the protagonists of the state capture narrative.

In the dying days of her term as public protector, Madonsela was burning the midnight oil to bring out her ‘State of Capture’ report but there was no money in the office of the public protector. She miraculously secured additional ‘emergency’ funding from treasury, headed by Gordhan at the time. Miraculous, because the former finance minister had imposed strict austerity measures in increased government spending. Gordhan has come to represent President Cyril Ramaphosa’s “clean” administration. 

Two years after his testimony at the State Capture Commission (2018), which was followed by hurdles, the minister known for his arrogance eventually pitched having defied the Commission at one point, by not appearing before it on grounds of “cabinet commitments”. Initially, the application by former SARS Commissioner Tom Moyane to cross examine Gordhan was turned down and later, permission was granted on terms. 

In his 2018 submission to the Commission, Gordhan had implicated Moyane of state capture including accusations that the latter had laid criminal charges against him based on malice and in pursuance of capturing the state.  

As predicted, Gordhan brought with him his arrogance, penchant for belittling people more so those of a darker hue, and his superiority complex. On the opposite corner of the ring was Advocate Dali Mpofu, appearing for Moyane and he did not pull back any punches as he lunged into Gordhan. 

Gordhan was to be cross-examined on five key issues, three of which evidence leader Advocate Chaskalson in his opening remarks, said fell away because it was common cause that Moyane had not laid criminal charges against Gordhan. 

Mpofu refused to take the bait and demanded he cross examine Gordhan on these three aspects as well. His explanation was that they were all related to the two on which the Commission advised he dwell with. It was a brutal exchange as counsel for Moyane exposed Gordhan’s contemptible character. At one point, Gordhan said Mpofu was hard of hearing – a jab which was met with a vicious counter punch from the lawyer: “You don’t have to insult me Mr Gordhan….I’m not a child, Im not a pikinini…I’m not one of those Blacks that you undermine….Don’t even think about it”. 

Despite Gordhan’s long-winded and evasive answers, Mpofu managed to demonstrate and confirm this:

  • One of the elements that defined state capture was having been in the company of the Guptas
The association with the Gupta family has become one of the key flags raised when assessing “state capture”. As can be seen in this picture, the Guptas were associating with just about every politically influential person in South Africa. Top Left: Thuli Madonsela receives an award from a competition managed and funded by the Guptas. Top Right A Gupta family member with former Finance Minister Trevor Manuel Bottom Left: One of the Gupta family members with former President Thabo Mbeki. Bottom Right. A Gupta member with former President Kgalema Motlhantle
  • Gordhan had lied to Parliament when he said he had never been to the Gupta’s residence
  • Gordhan was racist
  • Gordhan had a track record of employing friends who did not have the qualifications for the job as he did his friend Ivan Pillay who he later offered a controversial pension payout, and others. In there, Mpofu brought in, without naming her, the matter of Gordhan’s chief of staff who doesn’t have the qualifications to be in the job and whose story has recently been resuscitated by the departure of another controversial appointment by Gordhan – former journalist Sam Mkokeli. The latter was appointed at the time when it became public that Gordhan’s long-time spin doctor as SARS commissioner, Adrian Lackay, was employed by the Public Investment Corporation (PIC) but ended up being seconded to Gordhan’s office. 
  • Gordhan, the self-appointed saint among a sea of darkness, had accused Moyane of colluding with the National Prosecutions Authority and the Hawks with absolutely no evidence. Despite all his attempts at ducking the question of whether he had any evidence, he eventually conceded he had nothing. Chairman Raymond Zondo tried to rescue this bombshell of an admission by asking Gordhan if he knew of anyone who would have the evidence, “a picture perhaps of Mr Moyane with the Hawks,” but this offering of redemption couldn’t help the Minister. He knew of no one off-hand who could assist the Commission with this information. 
  • Gordhan was part of former President Jacob Zuma’s so-called 9-wasted years and had been at the helm of treasury for most of those years. Mpofu brilliantly pushed Gordhan to concede that treasury was key to state capture as this was the area from where money was pilfered. Having established this as fact, the advocate then moved to question the clean Gordhan on why Zuma would appoint him back at treasury when he wanted to pursue his state capture project. “He would need someone pliable in that position,” Mpofu proposed. Pushed into a corner and in desperation, Gordhan diminished the position of treasury saying the office doesnt hold the power often perceived of it and that finance ministers are at times appointed to give credibility to the office in order to boost the confidence of investors and rating agencies. Well, well….

By the end of the cross examination, Mpofu had reduced the untouchable one to a whimper. It was simply inconceivable that Gordhan, the man who had helped orchestrate the Commission and accused his political foes of state capture, including journalists he didn’t like – could not produce a stitch of evidence to prove Moyane colluded with the Hawks and NPA.

Ramaphosa Meddled In Eskom’s Affairs 

Unbeknown to us, a bigger bombshell was to come by way of Matshela Koko’s testimony on Thursday evening in which he implicated President Cyril Ramaphosa in meddling in Eskom affairs where he (Koko) was group ceo. At the time, Ramaphosa was head of business and deputy president of the country. Koko told the Commission that Ramaphosa sent an instruction to the department of enterprises instructing it to convene a new board and fire Koko. 

Ramaphosa, according to Koko, had him fired because there was a R1.4bn in penalties owed to Eskom by Optimum, whose board Ramaphosa chaired in 2012 and 2014: “The Chairman of Optimum in 2012 and 2014 was then Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa at the time when Eskom was owed R1.4bn which was not paid,” Koko explained.

He promised to reveal more of the shenanigans of Optimum saying the mining company “is lying when it said it spent over a billion rands to buy Optimum mine without due diligence. Glencore is a very sophisticated company to buy Optimum mine without a due diligence. But they did that and the chairman then was Mr Ramaphosa. They owed Eskom penalties of R1.4bn, they never paid Eskom. There’s no reason why the R1.4bn was not paid to Eskom, it was due to Eskom”. 

Koko said he got notification of his impending dismissal from the director general of public enterprises, in the presence of then Deputy Minister Ben Martin. Martin told him they were calling him out of courtesy to inform him of an imminent statement announcing the new board and the instruction to have him resign 

Koko told the Commission he took Eskom to the labour court. “I’m saying to you Chair that the Deputy President interfered with Eskom. He said there must be a reason for me to be dismissed. What’s more important Chair, that’s an unlawful instruction,” he said. 

The relevant and contentious portion of the statement read thus:

The board is directed to immediately remove all Eskom executives who are facing allegations of serious corruption and other acts of impropriety, including Mr Matshela Koko and Mr Anoj Singh.’[4]

Koko threw in another bombshell. He told the Commission that he had a litany of accusations levelled at him. One of them was the charge that he had negotiated a contract with McKinsey Trillian. “Out there they say the judiciary is captured, especially North Gauteng High Court…I don’t buy it, but someone must still find out how three judges said I negotiated a deal with McKinsey Trillian when I was sitting at home on suspension”. 

He tore into some of the witnesses whom he said had been to prison on grave charges including fraud and yet those were not brought to Zondo’s attention. Even as the Chair attempted to explain the omission of such critical information – which went to the character and motives of the witnesses – Koko managed to plant into the public’s mind, a seed of doubt about the true motives of the investigators of the Commission. 

Koko arrived with graphs and bombshells and by the end of the evening, the evidence leader was silent with the Chair left to lead the witness. 

He returns on the 11 December and promised to deal in more detail, with some of the accusations levelled at him. 

Gordhan too is still to return. Their return should be riveting, but the big question is whether Zondo will summon Ramaphosa to respond to Koko’s claims of interference in Eskom. 

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  1. “Once interrogated and cross-examined, all three have failed spectacularly to prove that state capture is a thing. Instead, what the commission has exposed is how private companies such as Bosasa, EOH and other businessmen used their influence to bribe government officials into getting multibillion-rand state contracts.”
    This is from the IOL article referenced by Jeff above.
    Can someone please explain to me how the scale and systemic nature of that corruption does not amount to what has been called state capture?
    Also, I’m failing to see how Gordhan’s personality or character flaws, as highlighted by the race-card-playing Mpofu, somehow enable us to now sweep away everything we’ve seen of “state capture” – or whatever you want to call it – over the past decade. Please help me out here.

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