South Africa


Gordhan must shed light on allegations of corruption at Eskom when he appears before Scopa

Gordhan must shed light on allegations of corruption at Eskom when he appears before Scopa
Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan on 5 September 2019. (Photo: Gallo Images / Sunday Times / Esa Alexander )

That pretty much everyone knew of the privately funded, intelligence-driven investigation at Eskom from mid-2022 is now on public record. What’s missing is why little, if anything, happened even among law enforcement, until — publicly — political sensitivities were touched.

When Pravin Gordhan appears before Parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) on Wednesday, a central question is whether he really had not told President Cyril Ramaphosa of then Eskom CEO André de Ruyter’s claims of the alleged involvement of “high-ranking politicians” in sabotage and corruption at the power utility.  

As the shareholder minister — the Cabinet member responsible for a particular set of state-owned enterprises — Gordhan is responsible for what happens at Eskom. So too is presidential security adviser Sydney Mufamadi, given the wide-ranging impact of Eskom’s latest R254-billion bailout on the national purse, and on South Africans left without electricity for up to 11½ hours daily. 

That Ramaphosa said he didn’t know of these claims is on public record: in the House during the presidential Q&A slot on 11 May he told MPs he wasn’t “presented with members of Cabinet or others involved in corruption at Eskom”. During an earlier parliamentary reply to DA leader John Steenhuisen, he said: “I was not briefed about the identities of people who are allegedly involved in cartels in Eskom.” 

What does this say about governance? Instead of political accountability in office, it’s a case of fobbing off potentially serious political interference claims to the — at best — lacklustre law enforcement. This is a page from the State Capture playbook in which the government dismissed claims and reports until it was no longer politically convenient to do so. 

It’s on public record the SA Police Service knew of the private sabotage and corruption investigation at Eskom after meetings with top brass from the electricity utility on 4 June and 5 July 2022. 

De Ruyter told SAPS national commissioner Lieutenant-General Fannie Masemola about the investigation, and Masemola appointed Brigadier Jaap Burger as liaison.

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

That was confirmed by ex-Eskom board chairperson Malegapuru Makgoba, who on 10 May told MPs that De Ruyter also spoke with Hermione Cronje, the then boss of the Investigating Directorate, about sabotage and corruption at Eskom, and his frustration at police and law enforcement officials not moving at speed. 

However, the current Eskom board chairperson, Mpho Makwana, maintained before Scopa the Eskom board was not told of this investigation and did not have its report.

Read more in Daily Maverick: It’s politics, stupid — Eskom board, executives and Scopa knock heads over who knew what about private corruption probe 

The failure of police and law enforcement to properly do their jobs in South Africa’s interest overall was underscored when De Ruyter’s book, Truth to Power: My Three Years Inside Eskom, hit the shelves over the weekend. 

The State Security Agency (SSA) has investigated corruption and sabotage since December 2019, and yet nothing was presented to Eskom, according to an excerpt of De Ruyter’s book published by TimesLIVE. 

“… Now the doctor [from the SSA] was saying that the information we had uncovered was consistent with the SSA’s intelligence. So, why had nothing been done for two and a-half years? The official said something about a joint task team being established but then being derailed by the pandemic,” wrote De Ruyter. 

Intolerable situation

By late 2021, the situation had become intolerable and after discussions with the then Eskom board chairperson, the privately funded investigation began. Makgoba confirmed this to MPs.  

The results, including the role of high-level politicians, were shared with Gordhan and Mufamadi. 

In his book, De Ruyter wrote: “‘Can I name them?’ I asked Gordhan, who was also accompanied by one of his advisors. The minister indicated that I should go ahead. I expected him to be shocked, but instead his reaction surprised me. Gordhan looked over at Mufamadi and said, ‘Well, I guess it was inevitable that it would come out.’”

What changed the dynamics was De Ruyter’s interview with in late February, which raised hackles in the ANC. His comments hit political sensitivities ahead of the make-or-break 2024 elections where rolling blackouts have been identified as a key polling issue. 

Amid the outcry from the ANC over De Ruyter’s claims of political involvement in Eskom corruption and sabotage, Gordhan distanced himself. 

“CEOs of any entity should not be involved in any open political debates or assertions. Where they have political views that’s their private business and they are welcome to express those views privately,” Gordhan told Parliament’s public enterprises committee the day after De Ruyter’s television interview.

“But it is the responsibility of any CEO of any entity, as far as I’m concerned, to keep their focus on the job at hand, and make sure that it is done as proficiently as possible.”

Gordhan went on to effectively dismiss De Ruyter putting the privately made claims into the public domain.

“One thing we have got to do is to differentiate between suspicion or rumour and actual evidence. If there is actual evidence, which is what the police try to establish when investigating with the Hawks and the SIU [Special Investigating Unit], NPA, only then the law enforcement authorities should be made aware of it so they can act on it.”

A state paralysed

This is the response of a state in which governance and accountability are, if not already broken, then breaking. It also is the response of a state paralysed by governing party factional winds, ideological posturing and vested interests.  

In this context, it’s not surprising that agreed policy and implementation timelines are elastic. 

In February 2019, the unbundling of Eskom into transmission, generation and distribution entities was announced, and in October of that year, details were put into a roadmap. Now, in May 2023, while a transmission entity has been established, regulatory approvals are still outstanding and, according to the Department of Public Enterprises’ annual performance plan, a board is expected by June.  

While talk is of the energy availability factor — currently averaging 50% — and not decommissioning ageing power plants, not much has emerged about the roughly 8,500km of new lines Eskom has to build to beef up the grid. Already, new renewable projects can’t be signed off because of a lack of grid capacity.  

Stalled also is the regulatory system, from tariff setting and wheeling to selling spare electricity into the grid. What the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy sent to Parliament a couple of weeks ago fails to comply with what can be deemed draft legislation. It is understood that Parliament’s Bills Office is assisting. 

Instead, what is being seriously considered is delaying the decommissioning of old power stations — a key part of the Just Energy Transition Partnership in which $8.5-billion was offered by a number of overseas countries to help SA’s Just Energy Transition. 

Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, who has yet to receive his formal delegation of powers, has argued that South Africa must rethink its decarbonisation plans. Ramaphosa has publicly backed Ramokgopa on this. 

On Monday, the Presidential Climate Commission, in a briefing, said that while the “government doesn’t seem to be of one mind around decommissioning”, delaying the process by a year or two was doable

This illustrates South Africa’s policy fudginess in a state breaking under unceasing political and ideological posturing amid the risk of entrenched poverty and inequality further deepening. 

In the Eskom saga, when he appears before Scopa, Gordhan has many questions to answer. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    Just another sorry tale of ANC incompetence, mismanagement and downright corruption on another national scale, like Transnet and every other SOE it gets its hands on. But you are doing a sterling job, DM and all of detailing how deep and high in the skulduggery chain it goes. Keep at it because the days of a free press may be numbered if preoccupation with Russia has anything to do with it.

  • Alan Jeffrey says:

    Now here’s a thing-that small item of equipment that should have cost R 80 but was quoted at R80 000 for which an order was supposedly placed. Did that really happen or is that just another urban myth? If it did happen and the goods were delivered and paid for at R 80 000 per unit then two stark truths emerge from this. Firstly it illustrates the utter contempt that Eskom and the ANC have for the people of South Africa. In virtually ANY other country on the planet, the perpetrators would not have escaped from such a blatant act of fraud. In a First world country they might get away with a 10% commission but can you imagine some Civil Servant in the UK trying to purchase a Four Pound item for Four THOUSAND pounds!!??
    The second truth is either that the ANC and all its cohorts are complicit in this outrage or are scared of retribution from the evil mobsters running the show.

    • Philip Conradie says:

      The ANC ARE the mobsters, and very good at it. Got the bosses at the highest levels, middle guys into Parliament and hit men everywhere. Makes the Genovese look amateur.

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    Gordhan is in the dwang! Expect him to be packing and leaving for Dubai shortly – the bolt hole for thieves, liars , money launderers and South African politicians and their mates! And with three direct flights from South Africa every day! That’s a lot of export potential for the SA taxpayers contributions!

  • Confucious Says says:

    The toxic aftereffect of a communist/socialist foundation is that nobody can make a decision to make things right. Nobody takes blame and nobody can make a decision. Poepols!!!

    • Johann Olivier says:

      Look, the ANC is a corrupt mess and they’re compete poephols, but this over-the-top preoccupation with communism, and especially socialism, is muddying the waters. This is not even about politics. It’s about theft, corruption and massive incompetence. Most of the EU is democrat-socialist and they have a system of governance that is the envy of much of the world. It’s like saying Russia is a communist state. It’s NOT. It’s an oligarchical Kleptocracy. It doesn’t even pretend to be communist.

  • Dragon Slayer says:

    Horror of horrors – the EFF may be right about the integrity of Gordhan; Ramaphosa, if not dishonest, seems to be treated as ‘a useful idiot’ by most, if not all his ministers while they cover their asses; feather their nests; or pander to the real power behind the ANC – think Xi Jinping, Putin and their influence / control over Zuma, Mabuza, Magashule et al that was bought and paid for in the late 70’s and 80’s – A leap too far🙄

  • Rae Earl says:

    And today we receive news that SA’s army chief is in Russia to discuss our ‘Combat Readiness’. Are our troops being readied to go and assist poorly equipped Russian troops kill more innocent citizens in Ukraine? The dishonesty in our government has reached epidemic proportions. The ANC and they seems hell bent on reducing South Africa to an international pariah state by giving the middle finger to our real friends, the US, Germany, UK, France, Italy, Japan, etc. and throwing us into the ruinous cesspool run by Putin and his warmongers. Thank you Cyril Ramaphosa and Naledi Pandor for your carefully orchestrated treasonous betrayal of our country to the forces of evil.

    • Brian Cotter says:

      Rae, ‘Combat Readiness’ surely Russia is making sure that ANC is ready militarily for a coup d’etat should ANC lose next election. This is Africa. Invasion by Zimabwe, Botswana, Swaziland, Namibia, Mozambique I think not.

  • idnankin says:

    Everybody knows who the 2 high ranking ministers are. Why won’t the ANC publicly out them?

    • Allan Wolman Wolman says:

      But they wanted to charge De Ruyter for not reporting those names to the police, which apparently he did and also advised Gordhan who they were. So why is Gordhan so silent – did he report this to the police and why has he kept this from the public? Stupid question!

    • Alley Cat says:

      Sadly I don’t?? Did I miss something??
      Please name and shame??

  • Gerhard Swiegers says:

    South Africa simply cannot afford the ANC anymore.

  • Hilary Morris says:

    Gordhan, sadly, has become irrelevant. While he used to be a man of some integrity, it seems this has been worn away, and that he too has learned to keep his mouth shut. What is so absurd is that virtually the whole country knows what is going on and the extent of corruption but we are (seemingly?) powerless to stop it. Ramaphosa, arguably, is the worst of the lot. A coward and a liar. And for what – he sure as hell doesn’t need the money.

    • Johann Olivier says:

      As I’ve said too often: from shop steward to billionaire in the space of 10 years and Zuma’s pupil. I never quite understood the jubilation of CR’s election. Maybe because it was better than the alternative? Which just goes to show the depth of South Africa’s despair…

  • Gordon Bentley says:

    What a shambles this Russian connection has become? As for corruption, if you are not directly stealing from the Taxpayers you are are the President and must be responsible for the actions of your dishonest cadres. Yes, Ramaphosa you are ultimately to blame. so don’t hide behind any of your thieving comrades.

    How do you sleep at night? I hope badly. Because you are implemental in the dread ful suffering of your fellow South Africans: For the lack of money – the due to ANC stealing. , For children who are starving, For the for the homeless, For the the unemployed, For the hard working citizens who do not have cushy government jobs, whose business has closed by the load shedding , the ANC is resposible for all the suffering… The list is endless.

  • Johan Buys says:

    Gordhan will just use a combination of Deny, Can’t recall, Alleged, Unproven in parliament. Not to worry, another commission will be set up.

    How do these politicians sleep at night?

  • greigdoveygd says:

    Don’t be surprised if Gordhan doesn’t appear and presents a sick note instead. Hypertension will be the order of the day….

  • Aegis S Shield says:

    There appears to be nothing you can teach the ANC about Plausible Deniability. Masters at that game.

  • Tim Price says:

    Makwana sounds very much like part of the problem. At best he suffers from dementia and cannot recall things everyone else knows, at worst he’s also a crooked liar. Either way he is unfit for purpose. As is Gordhan.

  • Lisbeth Scalabrini says:

    What a fantastic handy scapegoat the Covid 19 has become. Whenever some undefendable incident has happened, they blame the virus 🙄

  • Hendrik Nel says:

    According to Dante, our corrupt leaders are destined to the 4th, 8th and 9th circles of hell, at least. Just wish the honest saffer could witness their demise in this inferno…

  • Alley Cat says:

    I must be naiive. I thought Pravin was one of the good guys but he too has disappointed me.
    Are there ANY reasons to remain in this beautiful country?
    I see none. Children left already, time to join them!!!

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