SA’s light bulb moment: Eskom syndicates – same names, different sectors, same failures

SA’s light bulb moment: Eskom syndicates – same names, different sectors, same failures
Clockwise from top left: David Mabuza, former deputy president of South Africa. (Photo: Masi Losi / Gallo Images) | Former Eskom CEO André de Ruyter. (Photo: Brenton Geach / Gallo Images) | Gwede Mantashe, Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy. (Photo: Ziyaad Douglas / Gallo Images) | Jan Oberholzer, chief operating officer of Eskom Holdings. (Photo: Waldo Swiegers / Bloomberg via Getty Images) | Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan. (Photo: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach) | Former apartheid assassin Tony Oosthuizen. (Photo: Supplied)

It has become overwhelmingly clear that criminal syndicates thrive because they have deep ties to influential political figures, and they do not have to fear the members of a lacklustre security cluster.

This is a story that, a little less than six weeks ago, would have had a very different flavour. Back in mid-April, we didn’t know that South Africa’s security cluster was either unable or unwilling to root out the criminal syndicates that have been plunging our economy into freefall by looting Eskom blind.

But thanks to recent parliamentary hearings into corruption and sabotage at Eskom, we now know that State Capture during the Zuma administration and the political interference of the current administration have rendered the South African Police Service (SAPS), the Hawks and the State Security Agency about as ineffective as a neighbourhood watch with links to the local mafia.

In mid-April, we didn’t know that even when the security cluster wanted to do its work – like, say, when the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) wanted to extradite the Gupta brothers from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – there would be suggestions of strange international “friendships” standing in its way.

But thanks to the appropriation of one of our public airports by the president of the UAE, we now know that there was probably a lot more going on behind the scenes than any of us could have guessed.

And speaking again of “friendships”, we didn’t know back then how close to the Russia of President Vladimir Putin we had actually become.

But thanks to the bombshell statement of US ambassador Reuben Brigety on 11 May, we now know that our second-largest trading partner believes (at least on the face of it) that we have been supplying weapons to Putin for use in his criminal invasion of a recognised sovereign state.

So, what does all of this have to do with our wildlife, our biodiversity, our precious natural resources? Quite a lot, it turns out.

In the halcyon days of late February 2023, long before any of the above had alerted us to the reality that we were living in a full-blown dystopia as opposed to a relatively mild governance hell, Julian Rademeyer of the Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime (Gitoc) released a report titled Landscapes of Fear. It had been prepared for Enact, a project implemented by the Institute for Security Studies in partnership with Interpol and Gitoc.

In the report’s summary, Rademeyer noted that whereas the Kruger National Park had faced “a relentless onslaught of rhino poaching” during the previous decade, its greatest threat had lately become “internal corruption, itself a symptom of a breakdown in trust, staff cohesion and professionalism within the park”.

“Recent staff arrests following lengthy financial investigations and a renewed commitment to combat corruption are bearing fruit but will require political support, clear law enforcement strategies to address organised crime around the park and a long-term investment,” Rademeyer explained. “The park is severely affected by corrosive corruption and violent organised crime, particularly in Mpumalanga, where staff living in surrounding communities are vulnerable to deeply entrenched criminal syndicates.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: Kruger Park ensnared in corruption linked to criminal syndicates – report

Two things were uncomfortably apparent from Rademeyer’s prophetic investigation. First, though there was a measure of intent within elements of our law enforcement structures to address corruption, political will from the top appeared to be lacking.

Second, the entire province of Mpumalanga was rotten to the core, compromised by criminal syndicates whose reach extended into the police force, the NPA and sometimes even the courts.

For Daily Maverick, as far-sighted as Rademeyer’s work would prove, not all of it landed like a bolt out the blue. In the footnotes to the report, the name of David Dabede Mabuza – Mpumalanga’s former premier and, until February 2023, the deputy president of South Africa – appeared more than a dozen times.

The long-standing allegations of his penchant for “political assassinations”, which Mabuza had consistently denied, were once again brought to the fore.

What couldn’t be denied, of course, was the prima facie and substantive evidence in the criminal complaint that the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) had brought against Mabuza and another 14 suspects in early December 2022. Lodged under the Prevention of Organised Crime Act, the complaint pointed to a “pattern of racketeering activity” that linked the so-called land claims criminal enterprise to the Problem Animal Fund enterprise, with Mabuza as the alleged kingpin of both.

Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘Land scam kingpin’ – Deputy President David Mabuza named as top suspect in organised crime complaint

Since March 2021, Daily Maverick had dedicated a total of 14 deep-dive pieces to the case, all of them referring – in one way or another – to the abovementioned evidence. As had long been known, the evidence had come to light thanks to the work of whistle-blower and conservationist Fred Daniel, who was still fighting a civil action against Mabuza and the Mpumalanga government that had initially been lodged in July 2010.

It wasn’t any of these signs, though, that suggested we were too attached to our rose-tinted shades. Our most recent piece in the series, published in February 2023, dealt with an affidavit and a string of WhatsApp messages that implicated Dawie Joubert SC, senior counsel for the defence, in an alleged attempt to frame Daniel.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Dead Matter (Part One): How political corruption decimated Mpumalanga’s biodiversity

As the documents showed, Joubert may have colluded in the scheme with a senior member of the NPA in Mpumalanga as well as various current and former members of the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency.

But, more significant than that even, was the fact that Joubert and Mike Hellens SC –who, in the Daniel matter, acknowledged that he was acting for Mabuza in his personal capacity – were also the advocates for the Gupta brothers in the NPA’s unsuccessful attempt at extradition.

Inevitably, then, by early May, the sordid truth was becoming too obvious to ignore.

During an eNCA interview with Annika Larsen on 9 May, Andrea Johnson, the head of the NPA’s Investigating Directorate, admitted that “one has to wonder why” the UAE authorities were not forthcoming with “timeous information” on the Gupta extradition request.

But despite our reading that this was more than likely a veiled reference to “political interference” at the highest levels, Johnson (at the time of publication) has not replied to Daily Maverick’s repeated requests for information on the status of Outa’s criminal complaint – which, to reiterate, was submitted to her department in early December 2022.

Read more in Daily Maverick: NPA’s ID head Andrea Johnson on the failed Gupta extradition — ‘We were blindsided when we got the response’

De Ruyter’s book

All of which leads us, seamlessly, to the private sector intelligence reports (funded by Business Leadership South Africa and commissioned by André de Ruyter) on the Mpumalanga crime cartels that have been gutting Eskom; and equally seamlessly, to the parliamentary hearings of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa).

On 9 May, the same day that Johnson’s interview with Larsen aired, Scopa grilled the senior commanders of the SAPS, Hawks and Special Investigating Unit in an attempt to determine who knew what about the intelligence reports, and exactly when.

As it turned out, not only did the members of the security cluster contradict each other on the answers – Hawks boss General Godfrey Lebeya claimed that the first he had heard of the reports was on 25 April 2023, while SAPS boss General Fannie Masemola admitted that he had known about them since June 2022 – but very little action had been taken on the contents.

The MPs, to their everlasting credit, wanted to know whether this was because senior members of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Cabinet had been implicated in the reports, as alleged by former Eskom CEO André de Ruyter, during his own interview with Larsen in late February 2023.

The commanders, for their part, denied any knowledge of the names of these senior politicians. This was somewhat disingenuous, because News24 had revealed the names just a few weeks before, skirting the legal issues by claiming that the reports were “a speckle of truth adorned by outlandish conspiracy theories, concocted intelligence and unsubstantiated allegations”.

Daily Maverick’s (unstated) view at the time was that the files did not seem “concocted”, though they were in need of an experienced editor. After taking possession of the monthly reports in December 2022, we soon noticed a pattern of racketeering activity that squared not only with what we had covered in the Daniel matter, but with what was repeated in the Outa criminal complaint too.

Given our view, and bearing in mind the inconvenient truth that intelligence had never counted as evidence, we remained legally constrained from naming the senior politicians – though the reader, of course, was (and is) free to draw inferences from the work of our colleagues.

What we could now say, however, was that the scourge of organised crime that bedevilled Mpumalanga – with its alleged kingpins in the topmost political spheres – appeared to extend across a range of economic sectors, with impacts that rippled into the realms of international geopolitics, global finance and worldwide ecosystem collapse.

A case in point, to return to the subject matter of this piece, was the $8.5-billion that De Ruyter had provisionally secured from Western development institutions for Eskom’s decarbonisation, otherwise known as the Just Energy Transition (JET).

Read more in Daily Maverick: A just transition is the only solution to South Africa’s energy crisis, says Andre de Ruyter

On page 280 of his book Truth to Power, which was released on 14 May, at the end of a week when the sordid truth was being forced down our throats, De Ruyter writes: “In a similar vein, when I asked a colleague who has brilliant insights complementing my blind spots, why I did not get support for my strategy to implement JET to address capacity shortfalls and clean up the environment, she chuckled at my naivety and said, ‘But André, you are not showing the comrades a way to eat!’”

The “only conclusion” he could draw from this, De Ruyter continues, was that “profit-sharing by criminal and corrupt elements has become so normalised that it is self-evident: it is no longer questioned, and it has to be incorporated in plans…

“In South Africa, corruption has become so overwhelmingly dominant that the system feeding the corrupt has begun to fail.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: André de Ruyter’s Truth to Power: The bombshell information uncovered by private intelligence

And so there it was, a truth so sordid that it had to be swallowed in small, palatable chunks. The failure of the system, to anyone who was paying attention, had become most glaring on the eastern Mpumalanga Highveld, where the polluted air from Eskom’s coal-fired power stations was claiming thousands of lives a year, where the watercourses were next-level toxic, where the soil was yielding carcinogenic scraps.

Meanwhile, as South Africa teetered on the brink of grid collapse, the cartel members were washing their hands in bottles of booze that cost upwards of R15,000 a pop, their supercars playing chicken with the potholes of Emalahleni’s neglected streets.

In all of this, it was no wonder that Putin’s Russia was fast becoming our favourite international friend. And like the contents of the Eskom intelligence reports, our President was claiming no knowledge of the US-led intelligence that contended we were supplying a war criminal with arms.

Our only hope, then, was that the truth would eventually out. Our only consolation? It always does. DM

For tickets to Daily Maverick’s The Gathering Earth Edition, click here.

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.

Absa OBP

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • André Pelser says:

    Mabuza delivered the presidency to Ramaphosa by playing the ANC electoral system – he is royal game. Somehow he was pushed out and replaced by Mashatile – due to the incredibly brave Daniels litigation? But where is Mabuza now? Russia, serving Putin? Are there any ANC politicians that are not compromised?
    Kudos to DM for their persistent pursuit of truth, may it prevail!

  • jcdville stormers says:

    The SSA has identified the electricity as a risk. What a joke

  • Thinker and Doer says:

    It is indeed a terrifying picture that has come into focus in the last couple of months, the scale of the corruption being greater and more integrated than we had previously known. The issue now is how to combat this, the government is busy scapegoating Mr De Ruyter and litigating against anyone else who brings more evidence to light and threatens to put obstacles in the way of their goals. The karpowerships, nuclear plans and gas projects that Minister Mantashe is pushing and successfully manoevering to force the country to enter into, is also part of this, and the scapegoating of NGOs as being responsible for delaying the adoption of “solutions” to the crisis. The Russia links also are another dimension that is clearly not only ideologically and historically based. Thanks to the Daily Maverick and all journalists and organisations such as Outa that are fighting this, we need to all give our support, and also mobilize to call out this continuation of the destruction of the country before it completely collapsed. More investigation of the goings on in Dubai and the Russia links will be very important and beneficial. Keep up the good fight!

  • Hermann Funk says:

    Zuma was bad and dangerous, Ramaphosa is worse and even more dangerous.

    • Gerrie Pretorius says:

      Now you’re talking!

    • Johann Olivier says:

      I feel bound to reiterate – CR went from a Shop Steward to multi-billionaire in a scant 10 years. This is exactly how Russian oligarchs became fabulously wealthy. Unless he is Musk-like (and I really loathe the latter, but give the man his due; he deserves every penny!), from whence his wealth? It’s easy to read how it started, from the state’s taxpayer teat. He then spent 10 years learning from the Father of State Capture – and we’re ‘disappointed’ and expect him to be different. Really? The Kremlin and ANC are birds of a feather.

      • Graeme de Villiers says:

        Ismail Lagardien’s piece on the rise of the South African Oligarchy is brutally frightening and informative. Worth a read, for sure.

  • David Farrell says:

    The problem is that the voters are all include in the anc/eff wrap they get a kfc lunch and a tshirt and the corrupt politicians get to continue stripping the state coffers for personal enrichment.

  • Davis Kate says:

    The only hope we have to sort out all this BS is for the DA to come into power in 2024. The rot in the ANC will never be rooted out and the country will continue to decline into chaos while they are in power.

    • Frank Lee says:

      We would be very naïve to assume that a DA win in 2024 was even a remote possibility. It will be painful to watch, but sadly the only way forward is to sit back and watch as things deteriorate to such an extent (hopefully sooner rather than later), that either in-fighting within the ANC/organised crime or disillusionment of the broader populous fractures the governing power base. The poor will sadly suffer the most, but only once it becomes as undeniable as the darkness of load-shedding will the man on the street at last see who their true enemies and the real culprits are. It is not “colonial capital”, nor does it have anything to do with race politics or Apartheid anymore – it is now the enemy within their own ranks. Maybe then we will all truly unite behind a single cause, regardless of creed and colour. I live in hope of, and pray for that day.

    • Derek Hebbert says:

      sadly the DA will never come to power. The real issues behind the apparent stupidity of the rural voters are twofold. Firstly the Chief in the area tells everyone to vote ANC. (only one scoundrel needs to be paid for this owing to the Big man syndrome) and secondly there us a belief that the ancestors are watching and any vote for anyone but the ANC will leave the voter open to bad karma from their ancestors. A whole generation needs to die off before this cultural mindset can be altered.

  • Ian Schofield Schofield says:

    The evidence is there. BUT nothing happens!!!! The ANC (government??) shoots the messenger. They do not address the problem. eg Eskom. Everyone is attacking de Ryter’s for not reporting corruption. It actually has been reported. But like any politician the first course is to deny everything. They are attacking de Ruyter for commissioning a forensic report. They are not addressing the problem. The public prosecutor worries about a Trust/Absa matter that was killed + – 25 years ago. WHY?? The courts are tied up with the lying and evading public prosecutor. The courts should be prosecuting the accused of the Zondo commission or the Escom corrupter. STOP THE ANC (GOVERNMENT) FROM DELAYING AND DISMISSING PROSECUTING CORRUPTORS BECAUSE THE ANC FEELS THAT THEY ARE “NICE GUYS” OR BECAUSE THEY ARE ANC MEMBERS.

  • William Dryden says:

    I think that De Ruyter should name the politicians involved once and for all, we need to get rid of the corrupt ANC and their mafia friends, to save this country

  • Johan Buys says:

    In the car I normally listen to SAFM. What is obvious the last year or more is that most callers are gatvol for the ANC corruption and incompetence and the lack of any form of consequence for either. The election will be interesting : the country’s very last chance to turn the ship. If it is more of same-same the number of people leaving will be a tsunami.

  • Altus Lombard says:

    Thank you Kevin Bloom for connecting a few dots. Unfortunately some of this excrement is starting to splatter our minster of Public Enterprises too, who was once so keen to connect some dots.

  • Jim F. says:

    Eh? I pay for this soft pedalling?

  • Ian McClure says:

    So sad .
    To see the previously respected ( presumed honest ) communist pharmacist Mr Gordhan economizing with the truth in front of Scopa for his trough feeding ” The Party ” . Apart from the ” truth shedding ” , the knee jerk ANC use of racism etc etc – the depressing electorate to which we all refer ( apart from the 27 million on grants – a minority obviously deservedly) feed on that ANC propaganda. The same educationally deprived voters will sadly only change when they see lots of ANC heavyweights in òrange overalls – and CR knows that.
    If I were still procreating, naming children , and was looking for names of true South African heroes , I would consider Madiba and Babita de Ruyter .

  • Alan Jeffrey says:

    The most important thing that the DM needs to address is the reality that it is preaching to the converted. You cannot shame the current ANC Government into any kind of positive move. Your priority DM, has to be to find some way of reaching the masses and recruiting Black people to our cause. ANYONE regardless of age, race or to a large extent, education, shown the reality of what the ANC are doing to destroy this country must conclude that it is indeed time for change. Along with this, our hopelessly fractured myriad of opposition parties must get together to form a GNU-Government of National Unity with a Black leader, to fix things. The DA winning a majority on their own is Pie-in-the Sky stuff. Without the above we are doomed

  • Nico Brandt says:

    They should all be hanged for treason!!! The whole lot!

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    Brilliant article Mr Bloom – thank you sir.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted

Get DM168 delivered to your door

Subscribe to DM168 home delivery and get your favourite newspaper delivered every weekend.

Delivery is available in Gauteng, the Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, and the Eastern Cape.

Subscribe Now→

We would like our readers to start paying for Daily Maverick...

…but we are not going to force you to. Over 10 million users come to us each month for the news. We have not put it behind a paywall because the truth should not be a luxury.

Instead we ask our readers who can afford to contribute, even a small amount each month, to do so.

If you appreciate it and want to see us keep going then please consider contributing whatever you can.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options

Daily Maverick Elections Toolbox

Feeling powerless in politics?

Equip yourself with the tools you need for an informed decision this election. Get the Elections Toolbox with shareable party manifesto guide.