State Capture 3/3: Relentless pressure capturers’ chief tactic

Minister of Public Enterprises, Lynne Brown during a media briefing held at Megawatt Park, Eskoms head office in Sunninghill, 23 June 2017.Picture: Neil McCartney

State Capture 1/3: The rot reaches deep into Lowveld forests

State Capture 2/3: Family loses millions after refusing to sell

Sources told the newspaper that the main consultant turned out to be Eric Wood. He would move to the Gupta-linked Trillian Capital shortly afterwards.

Sources confirmed to Lowvelder that there was constant and unreasonable pressure on Safcol exco members since 2011, in the very same vein as at parastatals such as Eskom, SAA, Transnet, the SABC and others.

The working conditions for the executives were described by sources as “inhumane pressure” and barrages of personal attacks resulted in low morale among Exco members.

A well-placed source told Lowvelder that when Malusi Gigaba was appointed minister of public enterprises in 2010, the grooming for capture of the Lowveld state-owned plantations started taking form. As in the case of Eskom, SAA and the others, the campaign for the weakening of Safcol board’s executive formed part of the strategy to create the situation whereby the masters of state capture could move in.

Soon after the source’s appointment the pressure started from the Safcol board.

The pressure was immense, Lowvelder was told, and the first casualty was the CFO.

“Komatiland Forests (KLF) was the only real asset still left in the Safcol camp,” a source explained. “Most the other assets were by then already sold off.”

The Komatiland plantations were all green FSC certified, and the logs much sought after internationally. The biological asset valuation of KLF is conservatively estimated at more than R6 billion. It had no debts and no Eskom fees outstanding.

KLF is a state asset, which is managed in a cluster together with Denel.

Another casualty was Kobus Breed, CEO, who also budged under the pressure from the board and resigned in 2011.

He was suspended and avers having been forced out.

Breed, who started at Safcol in 1993 as the CFO, was appointed CEO in September 2002. He told Lowvelder when Alec Irwin resigned as minister of DPE when Jacob Zuma ousted Thabo Mbeki, the new minister and new administration at DPE’s way of working filtered down to the new board of directors appointed at Safcol.

“The new board clearly had its own agenda, and it was difficult to always agree with them,” said Breed.

“In July 2011 the board put me on special leave and in September 2011 I resigned.”

He added that he had few dealings with Gigaba, because Safcol was a small part of his portfolio and the parastatal was profitable and needed no financial support from government. “I realised that the new board wanted a CEO who would toe their line.”

The CFO, Manyama Matome was appointed as acting CEO in Breed’s place, but she did not last long and left Safcol.
Safcol advertised for a new CEO and in August 2012 Nomkhita Mona was appointed by the board.
Described by sources to Lowvelder as a “very qualified lady”, who was put under a lot of pressure from members of the board from the first day, she took office.

“It was the same repetitive way of unrealistic pressure from the Safcol board, as recently described by Pravin Gordhan as a concerted strategy by state capturers to weaken state-owned companies.”

Mona could not be reached for comment.

Safcol’s newly appointed COO, Francois de Villiers took office in May 2013. According to sources he also suffered a lot of pressure and efforts to destroy his reputation.

“It’s almost unthinkable that the Exco had to work under such conditions. The board appointed them in a managerial position after proper consultation, interviews, vetting and any other way of checking one’s background. Therefore it was so utterly strange that the huge pressure and personal attacks started immediately thereafter,” the working conditions were described to Lowvelder.

Minister of Public Enterprises, Lynne Brown during a media briefing held at Megawatt Park, Eskoms head office in Sunninghill, 23 June 2017. Picture: Neil McCartney

De Villiers was not prepared to comment, other to say that he was still battling to go forward and preferred not to look back on his life at Safcol.

Mona and De Villiers had to go through a year-end without a financial officer. From the outset the board handed out firm instructions that certain firms should be commissioned.

When Lynne Brown replaced Gigaba as minister in 2013, Safcol passed its 2014 audit with flying colours and there was cash in the bank.

Safcol scored in the upper 80s while Eskom could not even got close to 60 per cent.

Despite all of this, Lynne Brown severely criticised the executive members in the AGM and chased them out of the meeting over their alleged poor performance, while the parastatal really made money.

She announced no increases for management and right after the AGM, sat in a news conference and told the SABC in an interview how bad Safcol’s management was.

“We could not understand their mindset, but decided to carry on and give our best. Come August 2014, the pressure was relentless. Every board meeting turned out to be a nightmare. At times, some of our female members of the exco left the meetings in tears,” Lowvelder was told.

“The board went out of its way to frustrate our work. They took their time in signing off contracts, resulting in a chain of bad managerial events of work that could not be done timeously. It became difficult to motivate people in the workplace, because they were frustrated and obstructed in every possible way.

“We sweated it out through 2015 and hoped for a new board to take charge. Yet again we boasted a clean audit in 2015 and with even more money in the bank. By July 2015 we started taking stock of all the possible new board members that could come on board… That was until we heard the rumours that ‘another grouping in Saxonwold’ chose the board members.

“It was at this time that we got instructions to go and meet a new group of consultants for Safcol. The main consultant turned out to be Eric Wood, then of Regiments Capital, sources explained to Lowvelder.

De Wet Potgieter

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