By Paul Hoffman
26 Feb 2023
Has Fikile Mbalula perhaps forgotten that the Zondo Commission names and shames 45 Eskom-related persons for their involvement in the type of irregularities of which André de Ruyter complains?
Listen to this article: 0:00 / 14:03BeyondWords
In the same week that the Spanish Embassy in South Africa cosponsored a “Forum on Disinformation and Cybersecurity in Africa”, an illustration of the phenomena under discussion at the forum unfolded dramatically in the media, especially in cyberspace, after the former CEO of Eskom André de Ruyter gave “that interview” to eNCA’s shocked and horrified Annika Larsen.
He laid out in measured terms the criminality that has so infested Eskom that its ability to keep the lights on at all, let alone some of the time, is now more questionable than ever.
The information supplied by De Ruyter during the interview is not new to the seasoned observers of Eskom: his estimate that the value of the looting by the cadres runs to about R1-billion a month is just an estimate and may be on the conservative side.
Thirty years in power is only 360 months, but the hole in which Eskom’s finances have landed is far deeper than R360-billion. The sabotage, theft and other forms of misappropriation or illegal dealings have been, or ought to have been, the subject of police investigations for many years.
The deal the ANC’s investment arm, Chancellor House, did with Hitachi to form Hitachi Power Africa (HPA) to tender crookedly for the Eskom boilers at Medupi and Kusile has been picked over by commentators and academics operating in SA for years too. Hitachi has paid a huge multimillion-dollar fine in the US for contravening its Foreign Corrupt Practices Act just for doing the HPA deal.
Hitachi has been obliged to buy back the quarter share it “sold” to the ANC in order to regularise the legal position. Professor William Gumede estimates that the ANC made R5-billion out of the deal.
What other political party in South Africa is able to find funding of such a scale, and so illegally, with complete impunity? What effect does this irregular fundraising have on the fairness of the elections which the Electoral Commission, in terms of its constitutional mandate, is meant to ensure are free and fair?
In what other country that regards the rule of law as supreme does the criminal justice administration do so little to address the criminality obviously involved in the rape of Eskom? Where in civilised climes does the CEO of a public utility get served poisoned coffee, in his personalised mug, at the office?
Every reason to feel peeved
De Ruyter is one angry man. He has every reason to feel a little peeved. Gwede Mantashe has labelled him a traitor working to undermine the state.
This is rich coming from an operator who sees nothing wrong in accepting security upgrades to his properties from Bosasa, the notorious tenderpreneurs. Mantashe also publicly defended the HPA deal as the exercise of the ANC’s freedom of association — let conflicts of interest be damned.
Neither the President nor Pravin Gordhan, the responsible minister, have sprung to De Ruyter’s defence. Moving with the speed of a fireman at a conflagrating 5G tower, ANC Secretary-General Fikile Mbalula has embarked on a campaign of disinformation to counter what emerged so dramatically and compactly in the informative interview flighted by eNCA.
Tim Cohen has thoughtfully provided a highlights package of what was covered in the interview for those who do not have an hour to sit down with Annika Larsen and her guest:
- “Eskom is losing R1-billion a month to graft and theft.
- “An unnamed senior member of the ANC, who is currently a sitting member of Parliament, is deeply involved.
- “At least four organised crime networks operate in Mpumalanga, which feed off Eskom. The crime networks have adopted ‘Mafia-like’ characteristics, like calling each other ‘soldiers’.
- “The policemen sent to investigate his poisoning were so inept and junior they confused a dose of cyanide with a sinus complaint.
- “He was told by a minister in government it was ‘inevitable’ that a portion of the $8.5-billion COP26 fund aimed at accelerating SA’s energy transition would be stolen.”
That poisoning attempt, indicative of the willingness of those he opposes to eliminate him, would have a lesser man on the first flight out of the country. That the life of De Ruyter is in danger is beyond debate.
The Mbalula response has all the hallmarks of the type of propaganda for which Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s minister of propaganda, is infamous. It was Goebbels who said: “If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it, and you will even come to believe it yourself… A lie told once remains a lie, but a lie told a thousand times becomes the truth.”
The government response, while more measured than that of Mbalula, is also one of denial despite the record showing that Hitachi has been heavily fined while the ANC has sailed on untouched by the scandalous deal that gave birth to Hitachi Power Africa.
Minister in the Presidency Mondli Gungubele said: “I find that, unless he can demonstrate evidence, this is insulting.” He continued: “He [De Ruyter] knows that the ANC government is committed to cleaning up government.”
If the ANC government is truly “committed to cleaning up government” when does it intend to pay back the money the ANC made illegally in the Hitachi Power Africa deal? When will Valli Moosa, then Eskom chair and head of fundraising at Luthuli House and his merry henchmen face the music for doing the deal? When will the ANC be held to account for adjusting the specifications for the boilers at Medupi and Kusile in a way that has set them up for the failure they have become, at great cost to the economy and the nation?
The “catch us if you can” approach that is apparent from the “unless he can demonstrate evidence” is endemic in Cabinet. Mbalula himself ought to have faced criminal sanctions for his “sponsored” family holiday in Dubai; instead, the ANC, committed as it professes to be to “cleaning up government”, keeps him, and too many others like him, in Cabinet after the scandal is exposed and investigated by the Public Protector.
Then the ANC in its wisdom promotes him to secretary-general of the ANC. This office has often been described as that of the “unofficial prime minister of SA”. It does not behove the holder of that office to engage in palpable disinformation in response to the interview given by De Ruyter.
Mbalula on the disinformation highway
The eNCA interview compresses into one hour a great deal of information already in the public domain. The dramatic manner in which the message was put over by both the interviewer and her guest is what prompted Mbalula to take to the disinformation highway. He described the interview as containing “unfortunate, irresponsible and baseless claims of alleged political meddling and corruption”.
It is indeed unfortunate, but not for the reasons Mbalula’s disinformation campaign suggests. Has he perhaps forgotten that the Zondo Commission names and shames 45 Eskom-related persons for their involvement in the type of irregularities of which De Ruyter complains?
Does he know that the limping and compromised criminal justice administration has left all but one of these named persons untouched by the consequences that should flow?
Is he concerned that the ANC, which is currently R555-million in the red, does not have the wherewithal to repay its ill-gotten gains from the HPA deal? Is what he is doing with the disinformation recorded above simply electioneering and is he in fact actuated by fear of losing popular support in the upcoming general election rather than winning any fact-based argument with De Ruyter?
The geeks of cyberspace, the seasoned journalists, the academics and civil servants who gathered for the aforementioned Disinformation and Cybersecurity Forum could not have hoped for a better illustration of the manner in which disinformation is disseminated these days. Social media, mainstream media and the commentariat are all abuzz, not only with the information from De Ruyter but also the disinformation spewing forth to counter the force and thrust of the information.
The Covid-19 pandemic made meetings in cyberspace infinitely more popular, but the interruption of power supply in SA is reversing the trend as meetings in cyberspace are made impossible without a reliable electricity supply. Eskom has a state-owned monopoly to give the people of SA a reliable supply of electricity. It was able to do so in the past but is no longer up to the task.
Reformation is required. This may involve ideological adjustments (anathema to Gwede Mantashe) that include an ever-bigger role for the private sector in the supply of power. It will certainly involve cleaning up Eskom’s act — the Zondo Commission has recommended the termination of cadre deployment as a means of cleaning up the government.
The ANC clings to cadre deployment with the tenacity displayed by the minister of justice in his contribution to the Sona debate. The clean-up at Eskom will involve integrity testing, disciplinary measures and criminal proceedings of the kind the Chief Justice has warned will need “an army of prosecutors”.
South Africa, by design of the ANC, does not have an army of prosecutors. It has only 6,000 personnel in the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and many are new recruits, too raw and inexperienced to mount the prosecution of complex corruption cases, as is being learned in the Nulane case currently stuttering away in the Free State.
A binding judgment ignored
The reforms of the criminal justice administration currently under contemplation by the government do not even pay lip service to the requirements of the law as spelled out, loudly and clearly, in the Glenister litigation. Instead, the binding judgment of the majority of our highest court is ignored and the minority judgment is quoted to misstate the law in order to avoid compliance with the binding criteria for countering corruption effectively and efficiently. Those criteria are set out in the ignored majority judgment.
The minister in the Presidency, Gungubele, who contended that the ANC government is committed to “cleaning up government”, should take stock of the legality and constitutionality of the plans the government has announced for that clean-up. He will find them wanting.
So will the courts that will be approached by those impugning the constitutionality of turning the Investigating Directorate (ID) of the NPA into the “Scorpions Mark II”, as if, by some magic, that does not leave the country as vulnerable to corruption as it was when the Scorpions were summarily shut down by the ANC because too many ANC leaders and their friends in business were under investigation by the Scorpions.
Mbalula should, instead of spewing out disinformation, inquire of Cabinet why it has not acted on the August 2020 instruction to it from the National Executive Committee of the ANC to establish a permanent, standalone and independent anti-corruption entity for SA. The Sona-announced plans for the ID do not make it any more permanent than the Scorpions were: it will not stand alone — on the contrary, it will be part of the NPA and it will, given the “final responsibility” of the minister of justice, not be independent either.
The much-needed reforms to counter corruption must be constitutionally compliant. What the government currently has in mind is obviously and pathetically not constitutional. The plans may be designed to give the appearance of a desire to clean up, but making the ID “permanent” in the NPA will not capacitate it to do so via compliance with the Stirs criteria set by the courts (specialised, trained and independent operators who are fully resourced and enjoy secure tenure of office.)
A genuine commitment to cleaning up the government requires a genuine effort to implement the Stirs criteria. There is no evidence of that effort yet, and it will cost the ANC thousands of votes cast by those astute voters who see through the disinformation being peddled by its leaders both in Cabinet and at Luthuli House.
The EFF got Jacob Zuma to “pay back the money” misspent at Nkandla, or at least some of it. Is getting the ANC to pay back the money misappropriated from Eskom a bridge too far in this age of incipient coalition politics? Those eyeing coalition politics should take care not to deal with criminal syndicates masquerading as political parties.
The timing of the eNCA interview at the beginning of the season of Lent is commendable. It is time for purgation. The politicians may not be able to see that, but the people will when they vote come 2024. DM