The interview was extraordinary for at least two reasons.
In the first place, the claims made by the erstwhile CEO of Eskom revealed that State Capture is still alive and well in South Africa, notwithstanding the ruling party’s protestations that it has learnt its lesson and now seeks to comply faithfully with the recommendations contained in the reports of the Zondo Commission.
The second is that André de Ruyter was asked no probing questions at all during the course of his interview. He was not asked about whether he had made any mistakes during his tenure at Eskom, or whether he had failed to deliver on the targets which he had set and, to an extent, promised to the nation.
The allegation that Cabinet minister(s) were involved in the corruption which has bedevilled Eskom for decades was met without any pushback by way of a further question, which would have gone along the lines of: “You now have told the nation about at least one corrupt Cabinet minister without naming that person, which in effect places the entire Cabinet under scrutiny.”
There are doubtless those who would argue that this is not an entirely unreasonable inference, but in a national interview, so profound an allegation should at least have been met by further questions as to the person’s identity – and if that was refused, whether De Ruyter had duly reported these allegations, including those involving the Cabinet, to the police, and in particular the Hawks.
It later appeared in the press that Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan had been informed by De Ruyter of these practices of corruption in Eskom, but in his own interview with Newsroom Afrika, the minister was exquisitely vague about precisely what had been discussed.
This then prompted Build One South Africa leader, Mmusi Maimane, to rush “heroically” to the nearest police station to lay charges against De Ruyter for not reporting these alleged crimes, and demanding that Gordhan similarly provide responses as to why he had not acted in the face of damning information.
It is thus regrettable that Maimane did not bother to, at the very least, undertake a cursory reading of section 34 of the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act of 2004.
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Section 34 (1) provides that any person who holds a position of authority and who knows or ought reasonably to have known or suspected that any other person who has committed an offence (of corruption in terms of sections 3 to 16 or 2021 of the Act or theft, fraud, extortion, forgery or uttering of a forged document involving an amount of R100,000 or more) must report such knowledge or suspicion or cause such knowledge or suspicion to be reported to any police official.
Section 34 (2) makes clear who is a person of authority. It is, inter alia, a director-general, a head or equivalent officer of the national or provincial department or municipality or municipal manager appointed in terms of the Local Government: Municipal Structures Act, any public officer in the senior management in the service of a public body, any person who has been appointed as a chief executive officer or an equivalent officer of any agency, authority, board, commission, committee, corporation, council department, entity, financial institution, foundation or any other person who is responsible for the overall management and control of the business of an employer.
If Maimane had bothered to read these sections, he would realise that Gordhan was not such a person of authority and therefore was not legally obliged to report any suspicion.
But beyond the law, the puzzle extended.
It emerged in the press that, in July 2022, Gordhan, together with Sydney Mufamadi who was President Ramaphosa’s national security adviser, and other ANC government officials were briefed by De Ruyter and by a senior investigating officer.
By then, the highest-ranking police official in the country, the National Police Commissioner, General Fannie Masemola, had been briefed by De Ruyter on allegations of corruption and he in turn had appointed this senior police official, with decades of investigative experience, to investigate.
In short, if one puts all of this evidence together – which is now in the public domain and is not refuted – it is clear that De Ruyter reported the allegations of corruption to a police official and that the Minister of Public Enterprises knew very well that this had occurred. Legally, they have not fallen foul of section 34.
This raises a further question beyond Maimane’s impetuous conduct. In the first place, the question must arise as to why the ANC have demanded that De Ruyter reveal the names of the Cabinet ministers alleged to be part of this corruption cartel and/or report this to the police. Are those who demand reportage in the ANC the only ones who do not know that he has already appeared to have done so?
Given that various members of the ANC, including the president’s security adviser, also have such knowledge, this presumably permits the drawing of a reasonable inference that the president was aware of these developments.
And what has Ramaphosa done?
As to why the ANC would pursue this strategy, given the knowledge which they must have with regard to De Ruyter, is truly troubling.
Is there any other answer than that this is a deliberate attempt to make life as miserable for De Ruyter as possible, given that he has now exposed alleged nefarious activity to the public at large?
That brings us back to De Ruyter. If a senior member of the Hawks is presently investigating the issue, then in his interview it would have been better to have simply stated that an investigation is under way into very serious corruption beyond that contained in the Zondo reports, and that no comment can be offered until such time as the investigating officer reports on the outcome of the investigation.
Of course, it may well be that De Ruyter was anxious – now that he has departed Eskom – that this investigation may no longer proceed and accordingly he felt the need to inform the public by way of his interview.
The upshot of all of this is that, if the reports that media houses apparently possess are correct, with the best plan in the world, Eskom cannot reverse this crisis until such time as the cancer of corruption is excised from the body of the power utility.
That requires leadership from the very top: not speeches, not promises, but action to ensure an honest playing field in respect of the production of electricity for the country.
The new Minister of Electricity, Dr Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, now faces a politically existential challenge. He has to get to the bottom of the stories about coal cartels and ensure that the law takes its course – even if the case extends to his Cabinet colleagues.
Failure to tackle this narrative head-on will mean the appointment of a Minister of Electricity will be yet another in a long line of costly and unfilled Ramapromises. DM