EXCLUSIVE: Meet the ‘shrewd matriarch’ who is running Eskom

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Ayanda Mdluli

JOHANNESBURG- Thandi Marah, the Acting General Manager of Group Sourcing at Eskom has been fingered by a group of high ranking officials within the power utility as being the power behind the throne of the organisation.

While Eskom recently appointed Phakamani Hadebe as its new Chief Executive in recent months, sources claim Marah, who often gloats about her proximity to political power, is the one holding the keys and is exerting influence and power, calling the shots behind the throne while enjoying the protection of Jabu Mabuza, the chairman of the board at Eskom who was recently appointed by Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan.

Thandi Marah, the Acting General Manager of Group Sourcing at Eskom.

Senior sources within the power utility allege that Marah is now in pole position to be appointed as Chief Procurement Officer at Eskom, a position occupied by Jay Pillay who has since been suspended after allegations of corruption surfaced regarding the awarding of R2 billion worth of ICT contracts that have since been halted pending an investigation.

An investigation by Africa News 24-7 has established that Marah is another figure at the center of Eskom’s R2 billion Hybrid Programme which has been mired in corruption and bribery allegations. Africa News 24-7 established that Marah had to recuse herself during the adjudication process due to a potential conflict of interest after it was confirmed that she had been indirectly involved with one of the bidders where she was and is still listed as a director.

A senior official at Eskom who divulged information on condition of anonymity for fear of victimisation said Marah is a very powerful woman and a “shrewd matriarch” at Eskom who is very close to and is also possibly romantically linked with Mabuza. Marah is said to be so close to the Eskom Chairman that she was also invited to the wedding of his daughter.

Among the series of allegations that have been leveled against Marah is that she is married to a Sierra Leone diamond dealer who is indirectly involved in Eskom’s procurement processes through her. Sources have reliably informed Africa News 24-7 that at some point, an Eskom employee who is a buyer within the company’s procurement department provided Marah’s husband with strategic documents on the Personal Protective Equipment tender worth over R370 million.

It is alleged that this information was provided to Marah’s husband before the tender was even advertised.

According to the source: “The buyer delivered the documents to her husband. Jay Pillay requested that the matter be escalated to Eskom’s Assurance and Forensics Department. However, to date, there has not been any action. Strangely two weeks later after requesting that the matter be escalated, Pillay was suspended. I can also confirm to you that since Pillay was suspended, Marah is actively lobbying Mabuza to be given Pillay’s position.”

In addition, since the ICT contracts at Eskom have been mired in corruption, further information has surfaced that certain contractors were provided with inside information after receiving help from Eskom officials. One of the companies, at the center of controversy relating to Eskom’s multi-billion Hybrid Programme, submitted documentation which was too perfect and raised suspicion that the company received inside help from Eskom officials.

When Africa News 24-7 made an inquiry into the corruption allegations a few months ago, Marah allegedly intervened and made sure that Pillay was not informed about the media inquiry which implicated him in the bribery scandal. Marah allegedly told colleagues that Pillay was not available and that he was busy at Treasury. Sources claim Marah deliberately blocked him from commenting on the allegations leveled against him.

What is also interesting is that two weeks before Pillay’s suspension, a senior manager at Eskom told Pillay that one of the buyers told her that Marah had instructed the buyer to give a strategic document on Personal Protective Equipment which had not yet been advertised to her husband. The buyer gave the documents to the husband and reported it to Pillay. “You can even check with him if you like,” explained the source.

Pillay refrained from commenting on the matter as he was still under suspension pending an investigation. Marah has since denied any allegations of wrongdoing on her part.  “This is untrue and myself and Mr. Marah have never tendered for any work in Eskom.”

She also refuted that she gave instructions to a subordinate to provide strategic documents for the Protective Equipment Tender. However, in a response to questions, Eskom said it could not confirm this as there has been no investigation into the allegations. The power utility also claims that their Assurance and Forensics Department has no record of a complaint which was laid by Pillay regarding the supplying of strategic documents to Marah’s husband.

Commenting further, Eskom said: “The decision to suspend Mr. Pillay was made by the CEO in consultation with the CFO having reviewed the serious nature of the allegations against Mr. Pillay. This matter was never discussed by the CEO with the Chairman as it is an operational issue. Commenting on whether Marah was a guest at Mabuza’s daughter’s wedding Eskom said: “M.r Mabuza cannot confirm whether Ms. Marah was in attendance. Also, the Office of the Chairman has stated that the wedding was a family event with members of the family entitled to invite their respective guests. Ms. Marah was not on Mr. Mabuza’s list of invitees.”

While Mabuza and Marah denied being romantically linked, Eskom stated: “Eskom would like to clarify that where questions related to individual actions and private matters, the responses stated above are assertions made by the said individuals and not views of Eskom. Eskom cannot confirm or refute any of the said allegations.”

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