Resistance and lack of coordination in government allow continued corruption at Eskom, says retired SAPS brigadier
Chasing runners instead of kingpins and focusing on dockets for numbers presented at oversight briefings won’t solve the corruption at Eskom or anywhere else, retired SAPS brigadier Jap Burger told MPs on Wednesday.
‘You can have a lot of complaints… where you go after runners, and you catch the guy with the sack of coals that was stolen… We don’t move up to the orchestrators or the kingpins,” the retired police officer testified before Parliament’s public spending watchdog, the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa).
“People can come here (and) quote thousands of cases. Are they addressing the problem? No, they are not. We are not going to win the fight against corruption in this way.”
Jap Burger, recently retired from the SAPS, was subpoenaed to appear before Parliament’s spending watchdog, Scopa. He had failed to honour previous invitations to Scopa’s probe into ex-Eskom CEO André de Ruyter’s claims of embedded malfeasance.
De Ruyter’s televised interview in late February sparked a political storm – from threats of legal action over claimed political connectivity in the looting, to Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan’s remarks critical of De Ruyter’s job performance that effectively signalled a breakdown between minister and CEO.
Running since late April when De Ruyter appeared before MPs, this Scopa inquiry has heard how De Ruyter had indeed informed police of Eskom corruption through SAPS national commissioner Lt-Gen Fannie Masemola, who appointed a liaison – that’s where Burger fits in – and confirmed the Hawks were investigating.
When Gordhan appeared before MPs in May, it was more about De Ruyter’s “messianic or heroic figure” tendencies than the looting claims, which were only raised “in passing” – and presidential national security adviser Sydney Mufamadi declined to say much, instead invoking national security considerations, but confirmed that De Ruyter’s briefing had enough substance to advise him to take it to the police.
‘Security cluster in dire straits’
On Wednesday, Burger’s testimony added details on vetting, the informal and uncorroborated information of the private investigation, and the State Security Agency’s non-role in the Eskom debacle – all speckled with sharp commentary on police and government failures on the State Capture and organised crime fronts.
“There is deliberate resistance and there is also a failure in the design of the government’s approach,” Burger told MPs, adding later, “The processes of government are not working. The processes of oversight are not working.”
And, apparently, botches happened right at the start of the SAPS’ involvement in the Eskom looting investigation saga.
In May or June 2022, the national police commissioner approached retired major-general Johan Booysen to head a task team. It didn’t happen then, but another outreach came in late June, according to Burger, when amid Stage 6 power cuts came “pressure from the Presidency… what is happening? Why are we having blackouts?”
When Booysen was again asked to help, he was about to go on a three-week overseas holiday and asked Masemola if Burger could assist instead. That was formalised a month later in August 2022, according to Burger.
Now in that liaison role, the then still serving brigadier held meetings with De Ruyter and the private company was provided with information – no final report as such was handed to him before he retired in June 2023 – and he also spoke to Mufamadi and Gordhan.
Attempting to “validate and corroborate” the information provided by the private investigators at Eskom, Burger approached the SSA.
“That’s where it was shut down… no cooperation,” he told MPs repeatedly.
“It’s almost as if this is done on purpose to not have a full response by government,” he said, adding later, “Our security cluster is in dire straits. We are not doing what we are supposed to be doing.”
Burger took this to Mufamadi, telling him of the need for collective action under the National Security Council, and for a wide-ranging anti-corruption effort.
The same information from the private Eskom investigators was handed to the Hawks – officially the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation – which investigated Eskom matters.
“I do not know whether they found any value in the information.”
State Capture ‘not a legacy thing’
When asked by ANC MPs if he didn’t think it was inappropriate for a private company to investigate the state-owned Eskom, Burger agreed.
Segue to De Ruyter’s lack of security vetting following his December 2019 appointment. When Burger raised this with Gordhan, he was told to sort it out between himself and De Ruyter.
“We are concerned about vetting. It remains an Achilles’ heel and it talks to a government not committed to its commitments,” said Scopa chairperson IFP MP Mkhuleko Hlengwa, noting that the Transnet CEO and chief financial officer had also left the state-owned logistics entity.
In 2014, the Cabinet decided all government appointees had to be security vetted. Cabinet statements that announce appointments talk of security vetting: “All appointments are subject to the verification of qualifications and relevant clearance.”
Eventually, De Ruyter’s security vetting finally got under way in late 2022, but documents were outstanding by the time De Ruyter resigned in December 2022, and were never handed in.
Crucially, the resignation signalled a break between De Ruyter and his political boss, Gordhan, who did not provide cover when his Cabinet colleague, Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe, accused De Ruyter and his executive of “agitating for the overthrow of the state”.
The incendiary comments came amid worsening rotational blackouts that left South Africans without electricity for up to 12 hours a day.
All of this predates the Scopa inquiry, but it signals the political dynamics at play over Eskom. Power cuts have seriously hampered South Africa’s economic growth. The governing ANC, alert to the 2024 elections in which pundits suggest it could lose dominance, has frequently promised an end to the power blackouts – initially by the end of 2023, although this deadline has since been extended.
Public criticism continues over the lack of prosecutions of high-profile people implicated in State Capture and corruption, even if prosecution and justice authorities maintain that such cases are before the courts.
“Everyone assumes State Capture is a legacy thing. No, it is not. Many of the organs (of state) have not yet been uncaptured. Their integrity has not been restored,” Burger told MPs. DM