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Cops defend detectives who confused De Ruyter’s ‘cyanide poisoning’ with ‘sinus problems’

Cops defend detectives who confused De Ruyter’s ‘cyanide poisoning’ with ‘sinus problems’
Former CEO of Eskom André de Ruyter. (Photo: Freddy Mavunda / Business Day)

That the CEO of a critical state-owned enterprise faced a possible assassination, one would expect a major-general or brigadier to have been directly in charge of the case, says policing expert.

The South African Police Service’s top brass has defended the cops who confused former Eskom CEO André de Ruyter’s cyanide poisoning charges with sinus problems. They did not know what cyanide was, they told the former energy utility’s boss.

De Ruyter suffered a poisoning attempt on 12 December 2022 and reported his case to the police, who sent two detective sergeants to interview him. In an interview with ENCA’s Annika Larsen on 22 February, he spilt the beans on the quality of the policing.

“A normal trained police officer or any other civilian will not have knowledge of scientific terms used to describe poison or poisonous substances,” said Brigadier Athenda Mathe.

She added: “It is only when the exhibits are collected and submitted to a forensic science lab for testing will our SAPS forensics analysts be able to describe the substance or chemical due to their qualification and training level.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: “25 years in the making – the real reasons we have rolling blackouts, according to De Ruyter

In the interview, De Ruyter detailed what had happened: “I was approached to make a statement by two middle-aged detective sergeants, and with all due respect, if you are middle-aged and still a sergeant in the police, then you haven’t really shot the lights out, career-wise, and as we went through the statement, I mentioned that my cyanide levels were elevated, as indicated by the blood tests, and the detective sergeant then enquired whether I had been experiencing problems with my sinuses.

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“I then asked whether they knew what cyanide was, and they said, no, no this is a technical medical term, and they don’t know anything about it. The doctor needs to explain it to them; they have never seen it before.

“Now either this is monumental incompetence by the police, or they are just not interested in investigating this,” he told Larsen in an interview that caused a crisis and saw him exit the utility a month before his agreed departure date.

Read more in Daily Maverick: “INTERVIEW — André de Ruyter says initial police investigators in poisoning case were ‘out of their depth ”

De Ruyter has been criticised by the ANC, the Central Energy Fund, Cabinet ministers and the SA Communist Party for the accusations of corruption he levelled against the governing party and certain Cabinet ministers.

De Ruyter took a hammering after the poisoning, he told Larsen.

‘Shaking badly, gasping for air’

“At that stage I was shaking badly, I was literally lying like this, and shaking, gasping for air, so the doctor was running up and down, and one of his colleagues called him over and said, ‘What’s wrong with that guy?’, and he said, ‘Well, we don’t know, we’re running tests’, and his colleague told him, ‘I’ve seen this before, this is cyanide poisoning…

“So, the doctor said, ‘Your cyanide levels are somewhat elevated; you must return for a further test’. I went back for a different test. The test took quite some time to complete for whatever reason – I think it was the festive season – and then it turned out that my cyanide levels were significantly elevated. Then when it became apparent that the story would break, I laid a charge of attempted murder with the police…

“I have subsequently consulted a specialist toxicologist, and the theory is that this was not a pure cyanide cocktail, but that it was a mixture of cyanide and sodium arsenite, which is a rat poison, and what the sodium arsenite apparently does is it masks the detectability of cyanide in a blood test, so if that is so, then the real level of cyanide that I had ingested was probably higher than indicated by the blood test.”

Introducing the four crime cartels that have brought Eskom and South Africa to their knees

‘Clear lines of accountability’

The police have defended the two police officers who interviewed De Ruyter.

“The members that were dispatched to attend to this matter are attached to the Provincial Investigating Unit [and] only investigate high-profile cases and are highly trained and equipped to investigate sensitive, complex and high-profile criminal matters. The matter was thereafter referred to the DPCI [the Hawks] for further investigation,” said Mathe.

“Given the seriousness of the case to the CEO of Eskom, one would’ve expected a senior officer at the level of major-general or brigadier at the very least to be directly in charge and hands-on in overseeing the investigation,” said Gareth Newham, the head of justice and violence prevention at the Institute for Security Studies.

“There needs to be a clear line of accountability and seniority of the officer leading the investigation. If a senior officer had not engaged with De Ruyter following his reporting of the incident [no senior officer did], it would raise various questions, including who was in charge of this investigation and why that person did not meet with the CEO of a critical state-owned enterprise who had faced a possible assassination or at the very least the equivalent of assault with the intent to do grievous bodily harm.

“To ensure [the] confidence of such entities [and executives] that the state takes their security seriously and that the investigation was undertaken to the highest standards, the safety of SOE leaders, particularly those critical to the country’s economy, needs to be given priority attention – particularly when there is extensive evidence of widespread and systemic corruption.

“Any security incidents need to be directly managed by a highly experienced and senior police official. Unless the SAPS can factually dispute De Ruyter’s allegations against them, that they were out of their depth, it harms their reputation and an inquiry should be launched to ascertain what exactly happened,” said Newham.

“The SAPS does not assign dockets or cases based on rank but rather on expertise,” said Mathe. DM

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  • virginia crawford says:

    Isn’t it general knowledge that cyanide is a poison? Why call the police for sinus problems? It does highlight what ordinary people face when the police eventually arrive: house breaking and they don’t take fingerprints or interview neighbors- this happened to friends in Melville recently.

  • John Weaver Weaver says:

    Assassination by poisoning is a Russian method. Many ANCers were trained in Russia.

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    What a cop-out! Given today’s reportage of cabinet ministers’ involvement in cartels, small wonder they tried to get rid of De Ruyter, which adds significant clout to his claims of ANC feeding trough and the like.

  • Arnold Krüger says:

    Surely basic police training must include some information about poisoning? And don’t police smartphones have google?

  • Graham Ferreira says:

    Having had training as a Detective in the pre-democratic SAPS I find it sad that the quality of training has obviously deteriorated very badly. No wonder we don’t seem to be able to get anywhere with investigations.

  • Barbara Mommen says:

    “The SAPS does not assign dockets or cases based on rank but rather on expertise,” said Mathe

    Which expertise is that?

  • Colleen Dardagan says:

    You just can’t make this shit up – seriously!

  • Tim Price says:

    ‘A normal trained police officer or any other civilian will not have knowledge of scientific terms used to describe poison or poisonous substances,” said Brigadier Athenda Mathe.” – No. I’m pretty sure she is describing an illiterate, uneducated adult or a child.

  • Hilary Morris says:

    Accepting that English is probably not the first language of the sergeants involved,Mathe can’t have it both ways. On one hand stating “a normal trained police officer….. will not have knowledge of scientific terms used to describe poison” and then saying “the member that was dispatched only attend high-profile cases”! Really – but they’ve never heard of cyanide? Hope said Brigadier has been fired. These people are all way beyond belief. Does that government think people are all that naive? Oh wait, they’re talking to their supporters. Scratch that thought. May they get what they deserve.

  • jcdville stormers says:

    Send the 2 unfortunate idiots to a Library,send the Brigadier to an asylum.

  • Geoff Woodruff says:

    I think that this points the finger at the corrupt cadres who felt that de Ruyter was getting too close finding out the truth. Poisoning is a Russian specialty for eliminating enemies and given the close ties of the ANC with Russia the pieces start to fit together.

  • Isis Limor says:

    And we wonder why so many crimes go unsolved…. Completely incompetent – and then they defend this incompetence!

  • Chris Marshall says:

    What is the poisoning of one pale male compared to the killing of thirty thousand Mparalanga residents by carbon emissions each year, according to de Rutyer himself?

  • Neil Parker says:

    From another of your reports:

    “[The ‘territorial ruler’s’] very close confidante is SAPS Brigadier X who undermines or frustrates any investigation into his interests. Whenever money is transported, Brigadier X is informed, and he ensures that the vehicle transporting the money is not stopped at a roadblock. If the vehicle is stopped, a phone call to X is made, who will take care of it.”

    Undoubtedly more of the same here – do these criminals take us for complete idiots ? A policeman who doesn’t know what cyanide is, is like a chef who doesn’t know what salt is. Can you please trace back and identify whence this ridiculous excuse originated ?

  • Ian Wallace Wallace says:

    Just asked my 8 year old nephew if he knows what cyanide is, his answer was “poison”

    Is there anyone in saps that I can send his cv too?

    He has skills that they may benefit from.

  • Elmarie Dennis says:

    Incompetence its a disgrace and tax payers pay for this useless police service.

    • Neil Parker says:

      Not even incompetence – complete cynicism.

      “Now either this is monumental incompetence by the police, or they are just not interested in investigating this,”.

      The latter, I venture to suggest.

  • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

    Having a discussion over the weekend, a comrade said that there are no police in South Africa. I tried to argue that there are but are badly led and they have rotten apples amongst them but there are those who have no commitment or are poorly trained for the job. The problem of Andre de Ruyter ws to bottle the matter and not to explain to the public what happened to him because we have had the experience of dodgy characters in the ANC claiming poisoning. When he substantiated the story and the fact that he laid charges was very moving. One thinks he fell for the nonsense of not going public when it is the public that can defend him. Athlenda Mathe of the SAPS was at least shocking and showed how dumb she is. We are talking of a head of a national key point who reported the poisoning case and the police who went to see him were assumed to have at least read his statement and sought clarity on poisoning. She thinks we are fools just like her. It is a very lame excuse when police send two juniors to a person who has opened a poisoning case and that person being a head of a critical National Key Point. Her statement tells us a story of incompetence and negligence even on her part. She should be ashamed of herself. She had a lavatory mouth in the rape case by zama zamas that is going nowhere along the pick and pay general.
    She needs to be fired. What kind of police who visit a victim without reading the his statement and docket? Is this how police work now? Heaven help us all.

  • D.R. W says:

    I’d like more clarity on how, after a somewhat bad start, SAPS have progressed their investigation. For the coffee to have been poisoned in the CEO’s office area, someone would’ve had to have access to the kitchen area in that section of offices – presumably the ‘executive wing doesn’t have free access to all and sundry – so strange folks lurking about would surely be questioned? So what have the investigations revealed? Per the quote in the article, Saps sent senior investigators to get to the bottom of this & we all know how seriously they take high profile cases🤪😜

    • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

      The poisoning took place at Dainfern golf course and the person suspected of the foul play has not pitched up for work according to him since then and the golf course has a relationship with Eskom.

  • Ann Druce says:

    “The SAPS does not assign dockets or cases based on rank but rather on expertise,” said Mathe. So promotions have nothing to do with skills or expertise?

  • Peter Dexter says:

    It looks as though our 30% matric pass rate is reflected here. This is a brigadier and two highly trained police officers. Imagine the competence levels of your average constable? I wonder whether Bheki Cele knew what Cyanide was before this debacle?

  • Andrew McWalter says:

    Dear SAPS, better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt!

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    There is no defence for stupidity. Raise the bar for those applying for jobs as policeman!

  • jcdville stormers says:

    We as citizens must understand everything coming out of governments mouth is just big fat lies,it’s about self enrichment.

  • Gregory Scott says:

    This is another example of incompetence in some SAPS members regardless of rank.
    Seems to me that the brigadier scores highest in the scale of incompetence.
    It beggars the mind that SAPS training does not include exposure to poisonous, particularly lethal substances used to commit crimes.
    One can only wonder whether an ANC cadre would have received such poor service from SAPS.
    Does this attempt on De Ruyters life qualify as a hate crime? Makes you think!

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