Artificial muscles give ‘superpower’ to robots

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Miami – Inspired by the folding technique of origami, US researchers said on Monday they have crafted cheap, artificial muscles for robots that give them the power to lift up to 1 000 times their own weight.

The advance offers a leap forward in the field of soft robotics, which is fast replacing an older generation of robots that were jerky and rigid in their movements, researchers say.

“It’s like giving these robots superpowers,” said senior author Daniela Rus, professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

The muscles, known as actuators, are built on a framework of metal coils or plastic sheets, and each muscle costs around $1 to make, said the report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a peer-reviewed US journal.

Their origami inspiration derives from a zig-zag structure that some of the muscles employ, allowing them to contract and expand as commanded, using vacuum-powered air or water pressure.

“The skeleton can be a spring, an origami-like folded structure, or any solid structure with hinged or elastic voids,” said the report.

Multiple uses

Possible uses include expandable space habitats on Mars, miniature surgical devices, wearable robotic exoskeletons, deep-sea exploration devices or even transformable architecture.

“Artificial muscle-like actuators are one of the most important grand challenges in all of engineering,” said co-author Rob Wood, professor of engineering and applied sciences at Harvard University.

“Now that we have created actuators with properties similar to natural muscle, we can imagine building almost any robot for almost any task.”

Researchers built dozens of muscles, using metal springs, packing foam or plastic in a range of shapes and sizes.

They created “muscles that can contract down to 10% of their original size, lift a delicate flower off the ground, and twist into a coil, all simply by sucking the air out of them,” said the report.

The artificial muscles “can generate about six times more force per unit area than mammalian skeletal muscle can, and are also incredibly lightweight”, it added.

A 2.6g muscle can lift an object weighing 3kg “which is the equivalent of a mallard duck lifting a car”.

According to co-author Daniel Vogt, research engineer at the Wyss Institute, the vacuum-based muscles “have a lower risk of rupture, failure, and damage, and they don’t expand when they’re operating, so you can integrate them into closer-fitting robots on the human body”.

The research was funded by the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the National Science Foundation and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering.

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Call for end to ‘open skies’ to help SAA not that simple – aviation expert

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Cape Town – At the end of the day, politicians and policy makers have to weigh up the greater economic and social development benefits that market access and increased air connectivity will deliver to their constituents and voters, versus increased protectionism to shield an airline performing sub-optimally, aviation expert Linden Birns told Fin24 on Thursday.

Fin24 asked him to put a call by ANC MP Pinky Kekana regarding “open skies” in SA into context. During a briefing of Parliament’s standing committee on finance by SAA on Wednesday, Kekana said it could be time for the state-owned airline to talk to the minister of transport about reviewing the open skies policy in the country.

At the briefing SAA said it estimates that its losses will amount to more than R4bn at the end of the current financial year.

“Our skies are too open. We are not saying a plane should not come straight from Dubai to Cape Town, but sometimes it brings unintended consequences to our own national carrier,” said Kekana.

“Without wanting to disallow provinces to also do their thing, there must be high level consideration of [open skies]. It is our national carrier. There is no way we cannot support it.”

Birns explained that SA’s domestic air travel market was deregulated in 1991 to introduce competition. Prior to that SAA held a monopoly on all but a handful of routes, for instance flights to the Kruger National Park.  

“Deregulation was not extended to cover cross-border or long-haul international flights. Those are still governed and conducted in terms of tightly prescriptive bilateral air traffic agreements, which are negotiated on a government-to-government basis,” said Birns.   

“Most importantly, the bilateral agreements are based on the principle of reciprocity. Under this system, both of the states nominate an airline [or airlines] from their country to operate flights between the points specified in their agreement.”

In the local context, this means that for each foreign airline that is permitted to operate a service to and from SA, the nominated South African carrier is permitted to operate a reciprocal service to that other country.  

In addition, these agreements stipulate the number of flights per week or month which can be operated between the two states. Some agreements even determine a ceiling on the number of seats that can be offered on the route, according to Birns.

He added that some bilateral agreements are more complex than others, with the complexity usually reflecting the level of demand for air travel and cargo between countries and the number of destinations which can be served.

“It sometimes happens that one country’s airline decides not to use its traffic rights and instead enters into a joint venture – usually a code-share or a block-booking arrangement – with a carrier from the reciprocating country,” he explained.

“SAA’s decision to stop flying to cities such as Dubai, Singapore, Kigali and Addis Ababa are good examples of this. In each case SAA decided it made better sense to have commercial agreements with the reciprocating countries’ airlines – for instance Emirates, Singapore Airlines, RwandAir and Ethiopian Airlines.”

Birns emphasised that the issue of ownership of an airline should not come into the equation as there are some very good examples of efficient, innovative and profitable state-owned airlines, such as Ethiopian Airlines, Emirates and Singapore Airlines.

He said it is also worth remembering that already in 1988 the member nations of the Organisation for African Unity (the AU’s predecessor) signed the Yamoussoukro Declaration which called for open skies in Africa.

“This immediately hit a brick wall when member states determined it was too liberal and should be refining in scope. They convened again in Mauritius in 1999, this time under the AU, where they signed the Yamoussoukro Decision,” said Birns.

“This narrowed the scope to open skies in Africa, but only for African airlines. Very little progress has been made since then to open up Africa’s markets and dispense with the archaic tangle of restrictive bilateral agreements.” 

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SA users flock to Twitter as WhatsApp goes down – again

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Johannesburg – Instant messaging app, WhatsApp has crashed for the second time in one month, upsetting scores of South African users. 

The web-based application is currently not allowing its users to send or receive messages.

Downdetector, a website which shows the status of applications like WhatsApp showed a spike in reports from South African users shortly before 21:00. 

The social networking app, owned by Facebook, which allows users to share images and videos, as well as make and receive video and voice calls, was reported to have experienced numerous issues from users around the world. 

The world’s most popular instant messenger experienced downtime in South Africa and in other countries across the world on November 3, when Downdetector saw over 7000 reports from South Africa alone.

Downdetector also reported that WhatsApp experienced problems on November 28.

WhatsApp came back online at around 21:20, although some users still reported downtime.

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Electricity supply won’t be compromised by limited coal supply – Eskom

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Johannesburg – Despite a shortage of coal supply to the Hendrina power station, due to Optimum Coal Mine not fulfilling its contractual obligations, Eskom said the electricity supply will not be compromised.

Eskom was responding to questions posed by Fin24 following a report by amaBhungane on Thursday that Gupta-owned Tegeta’s Optimum Coal Mine is threatening to cut its coal supply to the  power station in Mpumalanga.

According to amaBhungane, leaked minutes from a meeting indicate that Tegeta wants Eskom to pay more that R150 per tonne for the coal. The minutes also revealed that Eskom is considering taking legal action against Tegeta.

Eskom confirmed to Fin24 that there was a risk of “insufficient coal” at Hendrina. “This risk is primarily due to the threat of sustained suspension of supply by Optimum Coal Mine, and that Optimum is not meeting their contractual requirements,” said Eskom.

The stock days are below the Grid Code requirement. “As at November 24 2017, Hendrina was reported to have approximately 10 coal stock days at its holding facility,” said Eskom.

Eskom is still investigating the “unexpected measurement” of low stock days and said it could be due to “deficiencies” in stock day accounting. “The previous assessment during October 2017 was 25 days.”

Alternative coal supply

Eskom said it would be taking “urgent actions” to address the risk, which include considering a replacement of coal supply contracts to Hendrina.

“Eskom is currently transporting coal from existing Eskom contracted sources to Hendrina. 

“Eskom is also working with National Treasury to place contracts for the supply and diversion of coal from other Eskom contracted sources to Hendrina.”

Eskom said it is also reworking its production plan to “reduce the burn” at Hendrina, and ensuring minimal impact on production costs.

“Despite the challenges being experienced at Hendrina, Eskom will ensure that the power system will not be compromised,” said Eskom.

Eskom did not say of Tegeta is well within its rights to raise the coal price. Nor did the power utility say if the alternative measures it will take may incur losses.

Eskom did not confirm if it would take legal action against Tegeta. 

Earlier in November, Fin24 reported that Eskom was on the brink of insolvency, with only R1.2bn in liquidity reserves.

On Wednesday Moody’s downgraded Eskom to Ba3 due to its liquidity issues and poor governance. The ratings agency placed the power utility on review for a further downgrade. 

Earlier this week S&P lowered Eskom’s long-term foreign and local currency corporate credit rating to B- from B+, with a negative outlook, Fin24 reported. 

Eskom’s acting CFO, Calib Cassim, has since said the power utility was committed to ensuring an improvement of its liquidity levels,  and to “restoring the positive lender and investor sentiment to unlock access to the markets”.

“We remain positive that with the co-operation of the relevant participants, the funding plan can still be executed, albeit under challenging conditions. This will strengthen our liquidity and propel us towards positive cash flows,” he said.

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Mantashe says Koko’s graft allegation serves a ‘political agenda’

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Johannesburg – ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe on Thursday evening said that suspended Eskom executive Matshela Koko’s corruption allegations against his daughter during his disciplinary hearing had a political agenda.

Mantashe told Fin24 by phone after the hearing ended that Koko was purposely dragging him and his family into the hearing, because he is serving a “certain master”.

Koko, in his testimony earlier in the day, had alleged that Mbasa Mantashe had received a retainer of R978 000 from a company implicated in tender fraud at the Kusile power station.

Fin24 was not able to contact Mbasa Mantashe for her comment. Fin24 could also not independently verify the accuracy of Koko’s statements. 

Eskom did not immediately reply to a request for comment. 

READ: Koko alleges Mantashe’s daughter was beneficiary of Kusile corruption

The controversial executive said he had evidence of bribes amounting to R61m paid to Eskom executives to facilitate corruption at Kusile, and had submitted this to the police.

At the centre of the controversy is Tubular Construction Projects (TCP), part of the Tubular Holdings Group, which is accused of manipulating tender processes through Eskom executives that it allegedly paid bribes to.

Koko testified that in the last two years, not only was R38m withdrawn from the account of the alleged  bribe beneficiary account, Hlakudi Translation and Interpretation CC, but that current and former Eskom employees were put on retainers at Hlakudi Translation.

Mbasa’s retainer was part of this, Koko had alleged in his testimony.

Eskom’s former contracts manager France Hlakudi is the director of Hlakudi Translation.

READ: Eskom boss implicated in dodgy deal

Mantashe confirmed that his daughter worked for Eskom in the past. “This matter has nothing to do with me, but Koko raising it has now made me part of Eskom.”

He said his daughter had given Eskom a written response to the allegations that Koko had made on Thursday.

“Eskom must give you her response,” he said.

He added that Koko actually perjured himself when giving testimony, because Mbasa had changed her name to Mawela when she married and that she had worked at Eskom under the name Mbasa Mawela.

Mantashe said in the season of political battles all kinds of rumours surrounding him and his family members’ business links with Eskom are doing the rounds. “It is simply not true,” he said. 

“Matshela Koko serves himself and he has a certain agenda to promote,” Mantashe said.

Nepotism and conflict of interest

Koko faces charges relating to nepotism and conflict of interest. He allegedly failed to declare, accurately and in a timely manner, that his 26-year-old stepdaughter Koketso Choma’s company, Impulse International, was doing business with Eskom Generation when Koko was head of the unit.

He also faces charges that he interfered in tenders and operations at Kusile, which included his instruction on February 1 to remove Hlakudi from Kusile.

But the former interim Eskom boss had also been linked to the Gupta family and the Tegeta deal through leaked emails, and has been named in Parliament as a Gupta co-conspirator.

Meanwhile Eskom’s former contracts manager Hlakudi, who Koko also accused of corruption, earlier said in a lawyer’s letter to Moneyweb that Koko’s allegations were false and defamatory.

“I am taking legal advice regarding my rights and the institution of legal action,” he stated.

“You will no doubt ask yourself why these allegations and alleged documentary evidence emerges at this point in time. Clearly, they are part of a desperate and transparent attempt to divert attention from the real issues at hand.”

He promised to prove, at the appropriate time and in the appropriate forum, that these allegations are false and that he did not act unlawfully or improperly in any manner.

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SA insurers downgraded, as knock-on effect of sovereign downgrade continues

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Cape Town – Ratings agency S&P Global on Thursday lowered the credit ratings of a number of South African insurers and reinsurers, in the wake of its downgrade of the country’s sovereign debt last week. 

“We think that economic conditions in South Africa have led to increased asset risks in domestic insurers’ balance sheets,” said S&P in a ratings announcement. “We are therefore lowering our ratings on various South Africa-based insurers and reinsurers.”

The ratings actions affect South African insurers and reinsurers in different ways, as the insurance groups have different credit ratings, ranging from investment grade to junk.  

Some of the insurers who had their global scale ratings lowered (with the new credit scores in brackets) include Old Mutual Life Assurance South Africa (BB+), AIG Life South Africa (BB+), Allianz Global Corporate and Specialty South Africa (BB+) and Hannover Life Reassurance Africa (A-). 

General Reinsurance Africa was lowered to A-, Munich Reinsurance of Africa was downgraded to A- and SCOR Africa was placed at A-.

GIC Re South Africa was affirmed at BB+. 

Santam, meanwhile, was lowered to BB+, while Santam Structured Insurance was downgraded to BB.

LINK: Full list of S&P ratings actions for SA-based insurers and reinsurers

The downgrades for locally-based life insurers were not unexpected. 

S&P and its rival international ratings agency Moody’s have either downgraded, or placed in downgrade review, a number of South African entities in the wake of their sovereign credit announcement for South Africa last week

Just after 21:00 on Friday S&P downgraded South Africa’s long-term local currency rating to BB+, or junk, from BBB- with a stable outlook. Moody’s, meanwhile, placed the country on review to be downgraded.

S&P also further lowered South Africa’s long-term foreign currency debt to BB from BB+, meaning this debt is now on the second rung of non-investment grade.

Decline in financial strength

“Lowering [SA’s] sovereign ratings to speculative-grade indicates that the asset quality in the country has weakened,” said S&P on Thursday. 

“Hence, the sovereign downgrade has directly weakened the credit quality of the investments of those insurers that hold most of their assets in South Africa. Consequently, their balance sheets are more vulnerable. By extension, the financial strength of many of the rated insurers has declined.”

The ratings agency has also lowered the long-term credit rating of power utility Eskom. 

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Top5 on Fin24: Koko testifies, MTN to slash rates and Budget debated in Parliament

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ICYMI: A roundup of Thursday’s must-read financial and economic news. 

Eskom’s Matshela Koko: I’ve declared all my conflicts of interest

Matshela Koko. (Pic: Lihlumelo Toyana, Netwerk24)

Suspended executive Matshela Koko testified at his disciplinary hearing at Eskom on Thursday that he took all steps necessary to declare a possible conflict of interest relating to his stepdaughter.

But he also knew the relationship would be used against him when it came to light, he said. 

Koko faces charges relating to nepotism and conflict of interest. He allegedly failed to declare, accurately and in a timely manner, that his 26-year-old stepdaughter Koketso Choma’s company, Impulse International, was doing business with Eskom Generation when Koko was head of the unit.

Evidence leader for Eskom Advocate Cassim Moosa closed Eskom’s case against Koko, after several Eskom witnesses against Koko failed or refused to testify.

On Thursday Koko painted a picture of his wife, Khomotso Choma, as a super businesswoman who has done well running a number of businesses. Choma, who won The Apprentice reality television show in 2005, ended up at Group Five as part of her prize.

But Koko said he was so distressed about a possible conflict of interest that he ordered her to sever all ties with the firm. She then moved to Basil Read and again Koko was apprehensive about a possible conflict of interest.

READ: Koko – I’ve declared all my conflicts of interest

Chaos threatens key leadership vote for ANC

Court challenges, allegations of vote rigging and outbreaks of violence – the ruling ANC is in disarray less than three weeks before its scheduled conference to choose a new leader to replace President Jacob Zuma.

The struggle for power has spawned such disorder that some analysts question whether the African National Congress can hold a credible election at the December 16 to December 20 conference in Johannesburg in what’s shaping up to be the most hotly contested internal vote since Nelson Mandela led the party to power in 1994.

Leadership disputes have ended up in court in three of the nine provinces – KwaZulu-Natal, the Free State and North West – while the party’s national officials stepped in to avert a lawsuit challenging the outcome of its internal election in the Eastern Cape. 

“If all these legal disputes are not sorted out by the time the conference takes place, they will be transferred to the conference itself,” said Mpumelelo Mkhabela, a political analyst at the University of Pretoria’s Centre of Governance Innovation. “There is a risk that after the conference, some people challenge its legality and the decisions that have been taken.”

READ: Chaos threatens key leadership vote for ANC

#DataMustFall: MTN to slash out-of-bundle rates

Mobile network provider MTN will slash data rates down to 29 cents per megabyte on its lowest tariff.  

MTN SA CEO Godfrey Motsa said on Thursday that the network would be cutting data costs to 29c for its “Accidental users” who typically use less than 5MB per month, and those who use more can now expect to pay 60c out-of-bundle. 

“We have been investing heavily in our network infrastructure, because customers are the basis of our network,” Motsa said. 

During the same announcement Jacqui O’Sullivan, head of corporate affairs executive at MTN SA, said that, from Friday, customers would be able to purchase 1GB data bundles through the network’s cellphone app for R50,  which will be valid for a week.  

Motsa added that MTN wants to drop data rates even further, but can only do this with more spectrum allocation. 

READ: #DataMustFall: MTN to slash out-of-bundle rates

Expect forensic investigations and consequences at SAA – chair

Expect forensic investigations at South African Airways (SAA) and consequences if any foul play is uncovered, new board chair JB Magwaza assured Parliament’s standing committee on finance on Wednesday.

He was part of a delegation, including new CEO Vuyani Jarana, who briefed the committee on the state of the airline.  

Jarana told the committee his aim is to ensure SAA operates in a sustainable way.

“We now have aviation experience on the board – the lack of which people have complained about in the past,” said Jarana.

In response, committee chair Yunus Carrim said SAA’s management and board are in an “unenviable situation” and must use all the expertise it can get. Carrim said the committee still feels there should be one or two more SAA board members appointed with expertise specifically in managing an airline.

READ: Expect forensic investigations and consequences at SA

‘So what? I will tell you so what’ – DA whip scolds ANC MPs on budget

National Assembly opposition chief whip John Steenhuisen took on African National Congress Members of Parliament on Thursday, chiding them for dereliction of duty regarding the budget oversight process.

Addressing Parliament during a plenary session on Thursday, Steenhuisen was criticising the ANC for shortening the time for scrutinising the Budget so they could begin campaigning for their leadership conference in December.

He said that a high level parliamentary panel had called for Parliament to be more activist in its approach, because currently it is subservient to the executive.

Amid his speech, a Parliamentarian was heard jeering, “So what?”. Steenhuisen heard this and stopped reading from his speech.

“So what?” he retorted. “Well, I will tell you so what.

READ: ‘So what? I will tell you so what’

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JSE closes down as rand strengthens

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Nov 30 2017 18:49

Martin Harris, EasyEquities

Cape Town – The JSE closed weaker on Thursday, dragged down by large cap stocks in the resources and industrial sector which were affected by a firmer rand.  

The rand firmed to R13.56 against the greenback at the close of the market. By 18:30 it was trading at R13.63/$. 

Naspers [JSE:NPN] slipped 3.18% to R3 687.71 having drifted significantly off recent peaks exceeding R4 150 per share. Tencent and MultiChoice are the two largest contributors to cash flow.

However, all the other assets combined make losses and detract from cash flow, which was confirmed by Wednesday’s interim results.  

The All-Share index, meanwhile, dropped 1.07% followed by the blue-chip Top40 which slipped 1.27%, as all major sectors barring gold miners closed in the red.

Industrials were the worst affected, with a 1.66% drop. Gold miners, meanwhile, gained 0.50% 

Spot gold prices remained muted at $1 280 per ounce after upbeat sentiment on equities and positive US growth data dented the appeal of the safe-haven asset.  

South African headline producer inflation, meanwhile, decelerated in line with market expectations to 5.0% y-o-y in October from 5.2% in the previous month.  

The PPI for intermediate manufactured goods increased to 4.1% y-o-y in October from 2.1% in September due to higher annual price increases in the ‘recycling and manufacturing’ as well as ‘basic and fabricated metals’ categories. 

Producer inflation is expected to remain below 6% for the remainder of the year, but may tick up marginally from current levels off a lower base

Brent Crude oil, meanwhile, continues to soar, trading at $64.04 per barrel after OPEC oil producers and Russia appear set to extend output cuts until the end of 2018 as the group gathers in Vienna to finish rebalancing an oversupplied crude market.  

South African-born Elon Musk’s SpaceX has been approved to send cargo to the International Space Station in December using a Falcon 9 rocket that had already flown to space.

It marks the first time SpaceX will launch a reusable rocket for NASA, further validating the company’s reusable rocket technology.  

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JUST IN: Koko fingers Mantashe’s daughter as Kusile corruption beneficiary

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Johannesburg – Suspended Eskom executive Matshela Koko said he was targeted because of his actions to fight rampant corruption at the Kusile power station.

In his testimony at his disciplinary hearing at Eskom on Thursday, Koko alleged that ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe’s daughter Mbasa Mantashe was a beneficiary of the corruption at Kusile, along with Eskom’s former contracts manager France Hlakudi and executives Abram Masango, and Frans Sithole.

Koko faces charges relating to nepotism and conflict of interest. He allegedly failed to declare, accurately and in a timely manner, that his 26-year-old stepdaughter Koketso Choma’s company, Impulse International, was doing business with Eskom Generation when Koko was head of the unit.

He also faces charges that he interfered in tenders and operations at Kusile, which included his instruction on February 1 to remove Hlakudi from Kusile.

It was in relation to these charges that Koko lifted the lid on his crusade to end corruption at Kusile. Hlakudi was the focus of Koko’s wrath in his testimony. 

People implicated in Koko’s evidence have opted not to testify in the hearing. Hlakudi and Sithole have resigned, while Masango is suspended.

Evidence leader for Eskom Advocate Cassim Moosa closed Eskom’s case against Koko last week, after several Eskom witnesses against Koko failed or refused to testify.

Koko said he had evidence of bribes amounting to R61m paid to Eskom executives to facilitate corruption at the Kusile power plant, and had submitted this to the police.

In the middle of the controversy is Tubular Construction Projects (TCP), part of the Tubular Holdings Group, which is accused of manipulating tender processes through Eskom executives.

France Hlakudi allegedly earned about R20m in bribes to enable construction group Tubular to snatch the  lucrative Kusile contract from international power groups Alstom and Siemens.

This money was allegedly paid into the bank account of Hlakudi Translation and Interpretation CC from 2015. Hlakudi, Eskom’s contract manager at Medupi and Kusile, is the only member of this business entity.

READ: Eskom boss implicated in dodgy deal

Koko testified that in the last two years, not only was R38m withdrawn from the accounts, but current employees and former Eskom employees were put on retainers at Hlakudi Translation.

He fingered Mbasa Mantashe, daughter of Gwede Mantashe as receiving one of the retainers, worth R970 000.

Fin24 was not immediately able to contact Mbasa Mantashe for her comment. Fin24 could also not immediately independently verify the accuracy of Koko’s statements. 

“This is proceeds of crime,” said Koko. “And Hlakudi was arrogant about this, because he knew he was protected.”

Kusile workforce inflated

Koko said the Group Capital never fell under him, until December when be became chief executive, after Brian Molefe’s resignation.

Koko believed that the work force at Kusile was inflated. He said his work at Majuba in the 90’s alerted him that too many people were working on the project.

Kusile and Majuba had similar designs, he believed, and the productivity levels overlap.

At the peak of Majuba there were 5 000 people on site. At Kusile’s peak there was 19 000 people. “You know something was horribly wrong. I wanted to stop it.”

“At worst I would have Kusile to peak at no more than 8 000 workers,” he said. “What are the 11 000 extra people doing at Kusile? The public are paying.”

He said Kusile’s costs are going up, with more and more people getting employed. “And nobody has the balls to stop it.”

Koko said he called Sithole to his house when he became the Eskom boss. “I said Frans, you know deep down in your heart having 19 000 people is not on,” he said.  

“I now have the authority to solve it, we are going down that path now.”

Manipulated contracts

“Siemens had been performing well for 15 years. But then strikes are created and labour issues manufactured that forces Siemens not to perform. And then these Eskom executives come to Megawatt Park and say Siemens is not performing.”

Koko, before he became Eskom boss, said he reported his concerns around Siemens to Molefe.

“I said to Molefe, there is a problem here. Competent contractors are being rendered incompetent, and work taken away from them. The work is then given to friends of Eskom executives.”

But Molefe told Koko that Eskom did not function as a kangaroo court, and that he needed solid evidence, Koko testified.

Selling the story to National Treasury

Koko said National Treasury sees whatever Eskom gives them. “We sell them a story that they will believe.”

He cited the Tubular contract, which he said included bribes to Hlakudi.

Hlakudi, who was Eskom’s lead negotiator with Tubular, in September 2015 informed Tubular in a letter that Eskom would negotiate directly with Tubular in respect of the condensators at Kusile’s units four to six.

On the same day, a representative of Tubular allegedly paid R400 000 into the bank account of Hlakudi Translation and Interpretation CC, Koko testified.

He submitted a bank document from FNB to the hearing that showed employees of Tubular deposited the R400 000 to Hlakudi Translation.

“This was done on the same day that Hlakudi was authorised by the tender board committee to negotiate contacts with Tubular.”

On September 2 2015 Hlakudi notified the company that Eskom would indeed negotiate with it for a new, direct contract.

Yet National Treasury approved the transaction, Koko said, because they believed the Eskom version.

Whistleblower

Koko testified that a whistleblower handed him information in January about the bribe.

“I wanted to remove Hlakudi immediately.”

But Masango didn’t want to remove Hlakudi, Koko said. “He gave me all sorts of reasons, but my mind was made up that Hlakudi must go.”

Koko said he then became aware that the contract with DB Thermal, Tubular and Alstom was signed on December 10 by Masango, without authorisation from the Eskom board and that a prepayment agreement was included.

Once he started his investigations, he became a target of the media, he alleged.

“I have evidence that Hlakudi was in contact with [Sunday Times’] Mzilikazi wa Afrika 19 times, before the story about my stepdaughter and the conflict of interest broke,” Koko said.

“And my declaration of interest ended up with journalists,” he said. “I have no doubt that [Eskom group secretary Suzanne] Daniels and Hlakudi are responsible for the leaks.”

Koko said while he was away, Hlakudi’s payments just escalated

He said Hlakudi was only suspended recently, because the media started reporting on the wrongdoings at Kusile. 

Koko concluded his testimony before cross examination be stating he wanted his job back.

Hlakudi in a lawyer’s letter to Moneyweb earlier said the allegations are false and defamatory.

“I am taking legal advice regarding my rights and the institution of legal action,” he stated.

“You will no doubt ask yourself why these allegations and alleged documentary evidence emerges at this point in time. Clearly, they are part of a desperate and transparent attempt to divert attention from the real issues at hand.”

He promised to prove, at the appropriate time and in the appropriate forum, that these allegations are false and that he did not act unlawfully or improperly in any manner.

* This article will be updated as new information becomes avialable. 

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Lindiwe Zulu: ‘Even a child’ knows the right price of my Lexus

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Cape Town – Minister of Small Business Development Lindiwe Zulu has hit out at a report in a weekend newspaper about her car, saying that “even a child” would know the correct price of her Lexus, and accusing the newspaper of “creating hatred”. 

Zulu was answering questions in the National Assembly on Wednesday afternoon. 

According to a report in the Sunday Times, the Department of Small Business Development bought three cars – a Mercedes-Benz E400, a Lexus GS 350 and a BMW 5 Series, for the use of Zulu and her deputy Nomathemba November.

The newspaper reported that 13 new cars in total had been bought for SA ministers and deputy ministers for R12m.

In response to a question by DA MP Toby Chance in the National Assembly, Zulu said that the article was wrong. 

She said the Lexus – she did not affirm the make – cost R580 000, and not R900 000 as the newspaper reported. 

“I had a conversation with the very same journalist who wrote the story yesterday, and I said to the journalist ‘we here this side of the ANC fought for the freedom of the press, we fought for the freedom of journalists to write and write facts’”.  

She added she found it “very stupid” for someone to not know the cost of the car. ”Even a child would know that a Lexus like that can’t cost a million rands.” 

She said she did not have a BMW. She said her deputy minister drives a car inherited by her predecessor.  

She then accused the newspaper of “created hatred”.

“So, if you don’t mind respectfully, go back to that journalist and tell that journalist that the freedom that they have is a costly freedom and therefore when they write without investigating, getting all the facts, they are creating hatred, they are creating animosity, they are creating a situation that [would be] untenable, if they continue what they are doing,” she said. 

She said it was not correct for journalists to “write what they want and not write what is fact”. She repeated a number of times that it was up to Chance to “go back to the journalist,” although she also added she would be having lunch with the journalist.  

Approached by Fin24 for its reaction to what Zulu said, the Sunday Times chose not to provide comment.

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