Issued By the FW de Klerk Foundation on 13/03/2023


The dust is beginning to settle after Andre de Ruyter’s seismic eCNA interview with Annika Larsen on 21 February.

President Ramaphosa has since announced his long-awaited cabinet reshuffle and has appointed Dr Kgosientho Ramakgopa as South Africa’s new Minister of Electricity. As expected, loadshedding has continued unabated. Some companies that depend on an uninterrupted electricity supply have closed their doors. Others, in the best traditions of “boer maak ‘n plan”, have desperately manoeuvred to stay in business by generating their own power or by importing products that they used to manufacture. Supermarket chains have had to spend hundreds of millions of rands on back-up generators. Largely because of the energy crisis, the economy contracted by 1.3% in the last quarter of 2022.

A month ago, most South Africans were deeply relieved by President Ramaphosa’s assurances in his State of the Nation Address that he had identified the energy crisis and loadshedding as the Government’s most urgent priority. He acknowledged that “… our most immediate task is to dramatically reduce the severity of loadshedding in the coming months and ultimately end loadshedding altogether” and that his plan of action would – “result in a massive increase in power to the grid over the next 12 to 18 months, and beyond.”

Following these assurances, the revelations that Andre de Ruyter made in his interview with Annika Larsen were all the more dissonant. His comments included shocking allegations of the involvement of Government at the highest levels in continuing corruption at the utility – involvement of which President Ramaphosa must, or should, have been aware when he made his SONA speech.

De Ruyter said that he had expressed his concern to “a senior government minister” about “attempts, in my view, to water down governance on the US $8,5 billion (Just Energy Transition allocation)… and the response was essentially, you have to be pragmatic… In order to pursue the greater good you have to enable some people to eat a little bit…” When Larsen asked him whether Eskom was a feeding trough for the ANC, De Ruyter replied that “the evidence suggests that it is.”

De Ruyter went on to reveal that Eskom was losing an estimated R1 billion a month to graft and theft as a result of the criminal activities of four Mafia-like syndicates operating within the utility in Mpumalanga. He described how he had narrowly escaped death when his coffee was laced with cyanide last December and detailed the desultory efforts of the Hawks to investigate his attempted murder. He said that he had shared his concerns with “the minister, I think I shouldn’t mention names – but I did share it as well with senior advisors to the President himself – I never informed the President personally, but I certainly gave the message through… which, by the way, I am obliged by law to do…”

Given the priority that the President had attached to the Eskom energy crisis in his SONA address, one would have expected that he and the Government would have been galvanised into action by De Ruyter’s revelations. The appropriate action would have been the immediate appointment of a high level enquiry to investigate the allegations, followed by resolute steps to put an immediate stop to abuses and to prosecute those responsible.

Far from it.

The reaction to De Ruyter’s whistleblowing was instead to fire him with immediate effect, some 30 days earlier than his scheduled departure, and to launch a full-scale attack on his competence and credibility. However, the government had already lost confidence in De Ruyter. It had conspicuously failed to come to his defence in December last year after Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe had outrageously charged that “by not attending to loadshedding at Eskom” De Ruyter was “agitating to overthrow the state”. It was probably this lack of support that led to De Ruyter’s resignation as Eskom CEO.

ANC secretary general Fikile Mbalula claimed that De Ruyter was “scapegoating” Eskom for his own incompetence and failure to turn the energy utility around, stating that “his opportunistic venture into the political arena has unmasked his regressive political and ideological agenda.”

On 26 February, in a classic example of “shooting the messenger”, the ANC threatened to charge De Ruyter in terms of Section 34 of the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act, 2004 (Act 12 of 2004) which makes it illegal for any person in a position of authority not to report an act or information of corruption or criminality. (Ironically, in his SONA address President Ramaphosa had given lofty assurances that “work is already underway to improve access to the witness protection programme for public servants that expose maladministration, corruption and unethical conduct”.)

In fact, De Ruyter personally informed the highest-ranking police official in the country, National Police Commissioner General Fannie Masemola, of corruption and theft at Eskom, including the involvement of senior ANC government officials. In addition, Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan confirmed last week that De Ruyter had informed him of corruption within the utility. De Ruyter also made a presentation on corruption in Eskom to the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure.

So, what can we expect now?

Firstly, we must all hope that the new Minister of Electricity Dr Kgosientho Ramokgopa will be able to deliver on the promises that President Ramaphosa made in his SONA address.

However, there is already a cloud hanging over his head. During his term as Mayor of Tshwane he was embroiled in a scandal involving the roll-out of smart prepaid electricity meters. There were allegations in court that the contract – which was declared highly irregular by the Auditor General – had been awarded irregularly and had cost the city billions of rands in unnecessary expenditure.

When speaking to SAfm’s Stephen Grootes on 7 March 2023, Minister Ramokgopa characterised corruption as “a convenient excuse to explain loadshedding”, implying that it will not be his primary focus as he assumes his new office. However, it is difficult to see how he will be able to “implement governmental policies” to get Eskom back on its feet without addressing the high-level corruption that De Ruyter had identified as the utility’s core problem.

Secondly, the De Ruyter interview has further battered the credibility of President Ramaphosa’s eloquent and endlessly-repeated promises. The likelihood that he was, or should have been, aware of high-level corruption at Eskom at the time of his SONA address, raises serious questions regarding his willingness – or ability – to carry out his much-vaunted programme to combat corruption within the ANC and to restore its integrity.

If he fails to carry out his promise to “dramatically reduce the severity of loadshedding in the coming months and ultimately end loadshedding altogether” his political prestige will suffer a further pummeling – as will his reputation within the ANC for being an “election winner.”

Thirdly, sooner or later the ANC will have to make the choice between good governance, on the one hand, and dealing decisively with the corruption at its heart, on the other. It cannot have both. The De Ruyter saga has shown which alternative it is more likely to choose.

Image © Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg