Eskom is the ANC’s feeding trough — De Ruyter comes out guns blazing in interview

Outgoing Eskom CEO André de Ruyter believes South African politicians — particularly those in the ANC — are complicit in corruption and power station sabotage that has hammered the utility.

In an hour-long interview on eTV’s My Guest Tonight with Annika Larsen, De Ruyter gave his perspective on the underlying causes for Eskom’s continued struggle with corruption and the poor performance of its generating fleet.

De Ruyter decried the “very vociferous opposition” within the government against starting South Africa’s Just Energy Transition (JET), which envisions Eskom moving away from its reliance on coal power to more renewable generation.

De Ruyter said decarbonisation was an essential part of protecting South Africa’s environment, growing its economy, addressing energy security, and creating employment.

Yet even though the shift away from coal would be a decades-long journey, various stakeholders were vigorously opposed to the JET.

When he asked a colleague why this might be, De Ruyter said they told him he was naive because he was not showing the [ANC] comrades “a way to eat”.

De Ruyter concluded that the many vested interests in the coal value chain were to blame for the fierce resistance.

A significant enabler for the JET will be $8.5 billion (R156 billion) in funding from developed countries to help South Africa shut down its coal power plants and install more renewable capacity.

When De Ruyter raised concerns with a senior government minister about attempts to water down governance around this funding, he was met with a troubling response.

The minister said that De Ruyter had to be “pragmatic”.

“In order to pursue the greater good, you have to enable some people to eat a little bit,” they said, according to De Ruyter.

When asked whether he believed that Eskom was a feeding trough for the ANC, De Ruyter said the evidence suggested that to be the case.

Politicians involved in coal cartels and sabotage

Two factors significantly weakened Eskom’s ability to run its power stations optimally: coal theft cartels and infrastructure saboteurs in Mpumalanga.

De Ruyter said there were also signs of political interference limiting Eskom’s response to these threats.

“We know of at least four organised crime cartels operating in Mpumalanga in Eskom. Some of them also have interests in Transnet.”

“It’s interesting that they have adopted the language of the mafia. People are called soldiers, and they have a hit squad, allegedly with between 60 and 70 highly-trained, well-armed people.”

De Ruyter said people that attempted to act against these criminals were killed “pretty much every week”.

De Ruyter said the lack of action against individuals that Eskom had linked to the criminal syndicates suggested politicians were involved.

He said saboteurs effectively committed treason weekly, but the State Security Agency was just “missing in action”.

“They did see fit, however, to send one of their agents to COP27 to keep an eye on me,” De Ruyter said.

“Clearly, I am under suspicion of treasonous activity, but the real culprits can act with impunity. These things are Kafkaesque.”

De Ruyter said he had also not received any apology from the government over statements from energy minister Gwede Mantashe in which he accused Eskom of treason, without providing any evidence supporting this.

He also rubbished claims by deputy state security minister Zizi Kodwa that he had not provided the State Security Agency with documents to vet him for security clearance.

Gwede Mantashe, Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy

De Ruyter said Eskom told one senior government minister that a high-level politician was involved in the coal cartels.

“The minister looked at a senior official and said, ‘I guess that it was inevitable that it would come out anyway’, which suggests that this wasn’t news,” De Ruyter said.

The CEO also lambasted the police’s weak response when Eskom handed over suspects and evidence of their involvement in criminal activities at its power stations.

In one instance, the utility stopped the theft of R100 million per month in fuel oil at Tutuka Power Station and identified the two individuals allegedly responsible before handing them over to the police.

“They were released the following morning on frankly, derisory, bail of R500. That’s where the matter ended,” De Ruyter said.

De Ruyter said after Eskom’s high-level meeting with senior police officials and SSA representatives, it initially seemed like positive progress had been made towards taking action.

“We shared chapter and verse what we found,” De Ruyter said.

“The generals and SSA colleagues were suitably aghast and said, ‘This is completely unacceptable, of course, we will immediately start acting on this.’ And then, nothing happened.”

“You start to question, is this just incompetence or is there an attempt to, somehow, sweep this under the carpet?”

De Ruyter estimated that around R1 billion was stolen from Eskom every month, despite his executive teams’ efforts to clamp down on corruption.

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Eskom is the ANC’s feeding trough — De Ruyter comes out guns blazing in interview