MINERAL resources minister Mosebenzi Zwane travelled with a delegation from Gupta-owned Tegeta Exploration & Resources to visit Glencore in Switzerland to negotiate the purchase of Optimum Colliery, his spokesman confirmed last week.
But the minister derived no personal benefit, he said.
Optimum Colliery was placed in business rescue last year after closing down its export operations because they were no longer economically viable. It was also slapped with a R2.5bn penalty by Eskom for delivering sub-specification coal.
The mine was sold to Tegeta in December for about R2.15bn. Glencore agreed to advance R400m so that the mine’s R2.55bn of bank debt could be repaid. Eskom has said it will pursue its rights to penalties.
Tegeta is one of the interests of the Gupta family, who are close friends of president Jacob Zuma. The Guptas also have stakes in Sahara Computers, a major supplier to government; The New Age newspaper, which takes a pro-government stance; and various mining services and coal mining operations, including JSE-listed Oakbay Resources & Energy, the owner of a gold and uranium mine near Klerksdorp.
Asked if the minister had joined the Tegeta delegation to Switzerland, Tegeta director Nazeem Howa said it was “absolute rubbish”. Asked if the minister was part of the buying consortium, he again said it was “absolute rubbish”.
Asked the same questions, minister Zwane’s spokesman said the minister had a policy of engaging directly with industry stakeholders to avert crises, specifically to avoid job losses.
“Minister Zwane has committed himself to ensuring that his office has an open-door policy. This, in part, requires travelling to meet with all stakeholders to represent government’s position on these pertinent matters. He will continue to do so.
“No personal benefit is accrued from these. The minister and department remain committed to delivering on, and upholding, the Batho Pele principles.”
Both Glencore and Optimum’s business rescue practitioner, Piers Marsden, declined to comment.
James Lorimer, Democratic Alliance spokesman on mineral resources, said the minister’s visit with the Gupta family played into people’s fears that this minister had been put in place because he was in the pockets of the Guptas. He added that instead of involving himself in this matter, the minister could take various other actions to protect jobs, such as making his department operate efficiently and honestly and changing the mining framework so it was conducive to investment.
Lorimer said Zwane’s intervention in commercial negotiations was not unusual as trade & industry minister Rob Davies did so frequently.
“When government picks winners it has a low success rate and it opens itself up to accusations of cronyism. Someone in this position has to be sensitive to that perception and should be more cautious in his actions.”