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It’s politics, stupid — Eskom board, executives and Scopa knock heads over who knew what about private corruption probe

It’s politics, stupid — Eskom board, executives and Scopa knock heads over who knew what about private corruption probe
André de Ruyter speaking virtually with political party members at a Scopa hearing on 26 April 2023 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach / Gallo Images)

That no love was lost between Eskom board chairperson Mpho Makwana and his ex-CEO André de Ruyter was clear right from the start. But MPs questioned the hard line in the politically steeped controversy over a privately funded investigation into cartel corruption at the power utility.

Parliament’s public spending watchdog, the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa), on Wednesday grappled with Eskom board chairperson Mpho Makwana’s sophistry that as nothing new had emerged from André de Ruyter’s “utterances”, nothing needed to be done by the board. 

But MPs across the party political divide questioned why the Eskom board at a special meeting after De Ruyter’s controversial e.tv interview agreed to let him go immediately, in effect cutting short his notice period by five weeks, rather than question him about his claims of high-level politicians’ involvement in organised crime that costs the debt-ridden power utility R1-billion a month. 

“You had an opportunity to ask your CEO to unpack all this, yet you just released him … Was it not premature?” asked ANC MP Bheki Hadebe. 

DA MP Benedicta van Minnen talked of “a wilful ignorance” of what was reported. “You evade answering questions … [to] hide behind the blanket of, ‘We didn’t get a report in our packs’.” 

As the Scopa chairperson, IFP MP Mkhuleko Hlengwa, put it, “You met with De Ruyter after his interview. Have you tested the allegations? Would it not have been of interest to you to find out where he got the information from?” 

No, said Makwana. “We had asked him to stay on for handovers, but in that period it became clear he was no longer interested in Eskom’s best interest.” 

Yet Makwana’s predecessor, Professor Malegapuru Makgoba, told Scopa that he and Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan had been informed that a privately funded intelligence-driven investigation was necessary as Eskom was wracked with sabotage and corruption. 

“As a board, we were worried our crown was being destroyed when SAPS and Hawks were asleep,” added Makgoba. He said the slow pace of investigations and prosecutions was “almost lackadaisical in what needed to be done when Rome was burning”. 

The then board decided the investigation into sabotage and corruption was an operational matter left to De Ruyter, who continued to brief him, said Makgoba. “What the [current] board presented now doesn’t contradict what Mr De Ruyter said.” 

The controversy over De Ruyter’s statements has simmered on, not only because the ANC is suing him over his comments, but also because of the stubbornly heavy schedule of rolling blackouts that leave South Africans without electricity for up to 11 and a half hours daily. 

These rotational power cuts have upped the pressure on the governing ANC, whose dipping electoral performance cost it control of key cities including Johannesburg in 2016 and reduced its parliamentary majority in 2019. Lessening the intensity and frequency of the rolling blackouts has been a stated 2024 election priority of the party.  

“Load shedding was going to be the principle [argument] going into the elections to undermine the governing party. We’ll be able to resolve it. We are going to make that effort going into the future. Like I said, no amount of harassment will undermine our ability to resolve load shedding,” the electricity minister, Kgoshientsho Ramokgopa, told the National Council of Provinces in Tuesday’s Q&A session.  

Some notable absences

On Wednesday, Makwana stayed on message, and his executives fell in line. At least, those who were present. It turns out Eskom acting CEO Calib Cassim went to China with Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan on an official visit “as part of efforts to fast-track the delivery of locomotives and spare parts by the Chinese state-owned CRRC e-Loco supply to Transnet”, according to the 1 May ministry statement

Makwana on Wednesday confirmed the visit to MPs, adding: “There are also Eskom matters.” Gordhan’s office did not respond to a request for comment, but Eskom did. 

“The acting Group Chief Executive (AGCE) accompanied the minister on a business trip and will communicate details regarding the business trip when he is back next week,” said acting power utility spokesperson Daphne Mokwena in a text message. 

Also not present were:

  • Eskom’s human resources executive, Elsie Pule, who, according to Makwana, “in her full-time role as head of human capital, she’s right at the peak of wage negotiations”;
  • The head of legal services, who was “bedridden”; and
  • The recently appointed Eskom generation boss, Bheki Nxumalo, who previously held the post from 2019 to 2020, was still “finding his feet”.

Makwana also held the line that the Eskom board knew nothing about the privately funded investigation, although at one point the board chairperson acknowledged De Ruyter had “mentioned it in passing”. 

After questions from DA MP Alf Lees, it emerged that at least one board member remembered De Ruyter discussing this investigation with the board, as Eskom’s security boss also acknowledged she had been aware of the investigation as far back as September 2022. 

“It is my opinion — and no doubt it will be opposed — but I have seldom seen an exercise of obfuscation quite as successfully done as this morning. It is perhaps rivalled by Minister Gordhan. It is a pity,” said Lees. 

A toxic mix

It is a toxic mix of politics, policing and rolling blackouts. Or as Intellidex analyst Peter Attard Montalto put it, “Eskom is going from ‘activist’ to ‘tick box’ — solving load shedding as much as possible, but not rocking the boat on wider issues that are political live wires.” 

At one point Makwana seemed impatient with MPs’ questions about why the board had not engaged with De Ruyter’s claims. “I humbly request we do not force matters down Eskom’s throat,” he said. 

The state power utility was not a law enforcement agency, but an electricity agency and “the task at hand for us is to keep the lights on”, Makwana said in an echo of ex-CEO Brian Molefe’s mantra during Jacob Zuma’s presidency when “keeping the lights on” meant delaying required maintenance and facilitating State Capture.  

De Ruyter may have been sharply criticised for pursuing an independent, privately funded investigation, but the Eskom board is also turning to independent consultants. 

A panel of senior counsel is the latest. They will check what Eskom’s State Capture task team has done and “make sure there’s nothing left unhandled in our quest to deal with corruption”, according to Makwana.

Already in place at Eskom is an “engineering analyst company” that since late February has been checking system status reports, and “external resources” dealing with forensic investigations. 

Eskom’s private security cost R2-billion — another De Ruyter claim that was corroborated on Wednesday. 

In Scopa’s meeting with law enforcement on Tuesday, the SAPS admitted their top brass knew by July 2022 of the privately funded investigation into cartel corruption and sabotage at Eskom, corroborating key parts of De Ruyter’s statement.

Read more in Daily Maverick: SAPS knew of private Eskom corruption probe while significant portions of De Ruyter statements corroborated  

Gordhan is expected before Scopa next Wednesday, 17 May. DM

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Jon Quirk says:

    The big question lurking in the background is who is behind the scenes, trying desperately to keep a lid on what is being revealed, who are they trying so very hard to protect, and ultimately who are the two ANC bigwigs whose sticky fingers and gargantuan greed and egos are still raping Eskom and our other SOE structures of upwards of R1 billion every month?

    Our erstwhile President surely must know, as he also must know it cannot continue as our country will soon be just an empty, dry husk of nothingness, atrophying to dust without the economy backbone of electricity.

    Must all and everything be sacrificed on a pyre to protect the crooked, criminal interests that seemingly are the only forces holding the ANC together?

    • Rona van Niekerk says:

      Well said!

    • Rob vZ says:

      DD Mabuza. ( oops, did I say that out loud…)

    • Grumpy Old Man says:

      Jon, I think, even if the ‘whom’ were revealed (& the whom is not exactly a well kept secret) the bigger & perhaps more important question is ‘why’
      I sincerely believe that the Eskom situation, the reticence to pursue & investigate, is intertwined with the July riots (which is an investigation which has also stalled) & who within the ANC was behind this?
      I actually hate myself for giving into conspiracy theory but I sincerely believe ‘letting people eat a little’ – not investigating & pursuing obvious suspects – is to ‘keep a lid on things’ In short – its less about protecting individuals – then it is about appeasing centres of power within ANC ranks who threaten civil war. The scarier thing is that I am not even sure CR completely trusts the loyalty of SAPS & the SADF

    • William Kelly says:

      Yes. Obviously.

  • jcdville stormers says:

    Liars all of them,steal, then deny everything,that is the ANC for you!!!

  • Colin Attwell says:

    Oh what a tangled web they weave…..

  • Hermann Funk says:

    These morons spend 2Bio on private security, yet there system is full of holes.

  • Brian Cotter says:

    The camel’s back is straining but has held out. De Ruyters claims are largely verified. My memory recall had the old depleted Eskom board always asking for more qualified board members to arrive so board work could be shared and Eskom survive. But against all odds Pravin cleaned out completely all the old board members so his hand chosen ones could report back to him. As above, “Eskom is going from ‘activist’ to ‘tick box’ — solving load shedding as much as possible, but not rocking the boat on wider issues that are political live wires.” Pravin, what is Eskom doing in China on a Transnet trip? Gwede you are safe for the moment.

  • Jennifer Hughes says:

    What? De Ruyter was telling the truth? Massive corruption really has occurred? I am so shocked. Let’s have some more meetings to talk about it a bit more.

  • Dragon Slayer says:

    What was certainly clear is that De Ruyter does not trust the board that was just going through the motions that is why he he got the private sector to fund the investigation. The problem now is that because it was privately funded there is no obligation to make it public!
    Looking forward to the next book expose – possibly titled “Gweezy and The Cat”

  • Soil Merchant says:

    “As a board, we were worried our _crown_ was being destroyed” … Crown?
    What’s it made of … ?

  • Neil Parker says:

    A critical branch of a tree representing our economy is the one labelled “electricity supply”. If the Minister of Electricity is complaining about load shedding being primarily responsible for undermining the ANC’s chances in the next election, he should perhaps also query why that same party has sat on the “electricity supply” branch carefully cutting it off over a period of several years. Forcing out de Ruyter did nothing except chop a little further into the “electricity supply” branch as did the cheapo shots over his “agenda of renewables” and the almost comically desperate attempt on his life.

  • Elmarie Dennis says:

    The triumphing of the wicked is short. The joy of the unjust but for a moment. I will keep on praying for our beautiful country. Also that any evil plots will not succeed.

  • Colleen Dardagan says:

    Read Daily Maverick’s story on this mess and then read Media 24’s version – very strange. Either Carol Paton has it in for De Ruyter or something is seriously amiss in the reporting of these stories. Something is very, very, very wrong.

  • Carlo Fourie says:

    The more committees and politicians try to pen dirt on De Ruyter, the more he is vindicated. While the mud-slinging continues, De Ruyter is probably chuckling away on the sidelines. He made a good move to resign from this cesspit!

  • Peter Oosthuizen says:

    So typically new South African “I am not the one”. “Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil”

  • Shirley Gobey says:

    The new board Chairman looks very arrogant and is clearly not a De Ruiter fan. Makes you wonder who and what he is protecting????

  • Rae Earl says:

    The big problem is CR’s fanatical devotion to ‘The Collective’ which he maintains is the ANC’s guiding principle in all matters and decisions. The question is this. Are there two ANC collectives? Is one trying to govern the country while the other loots it to death? Collectives can only govern effectively if controlled by a strong leader. We don’t have one. Collectives without such a leader will wreck and plunder a country down to Zimbabwe level. Roll on 2024…

  • Deon Verster says:

    I am trying, so very hard, not to cave in to aggression,pessimism and scepticism about the governance and ultimately the future of this beautiful country of ours. It is though becoming very difficult indeed not to taper into emotions of despair and anger while debating the current affairs with colleagues and friends.
    There seem to be no light at the end of the tunnel

  • We shoud start decreasing our tax payments. There is no service delivery of any sort to justified these peoples salaries. They do nothing and in return we get nothing for our hardworking monies. Stop or reduce the cash in flow and things will drastically change. If I don’t pay my car. The bank takes it back. You don’t deliver a service, I stop paying for the non existent service!

  • Ernest Esterhuizen says:

    How is it possible that a private investigation on a scale as huge as that went “unnoticed” by the Eskom board, their cronies and “their” politicians? Impossible because their own people must have provided the evidence to Fivaz’s team and what were the chances of staff members not mentioning along the way that they were being interrogated by a private team? Makwana, his leadership team, Gordhan, Cele, Ramaphosa, Mantashe and who knows who else are absolutely wicked.

  • Ernest Esterhuizen says:

    The reason why no one ends up in orange overalls is because they are all complicit. That is why zuma and mkhwebane can make a mockery of our legal processes and taxpayers’ money. Our laws need to be rewritten to close all these loopholes. How can one be a thief and corrupt and disrespectful to a nation and still enjoy having their legal fees paid by taxpayers? I beseech you to vote this useless lot out of power.

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