South Africa: an irredeemable, ‘unreformable’ land? – Ivo Vegter

Outgoing Eskom CEO, André de Ruyter, claims that the South African power utility continues to be plagued by rampant corruption, estimating that around a billion rand per month is stolen from Eskom. De Ruyter, who was summarily dismissed by Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, stated that the entire organisation is shot through with corruption, from top to bottom. He cited corrupt supplier contracts, including the Medupi and Kusile boiler contracts with Hitachi, and mentioned the existence of four separate crime syndicates operating on the Mpumalanga Highveld. Corruption cases are frequently met with no response from the police or state security agents, he claimed. Following these explosive accusations, journalist Ivo Vegter wonders if South Africa can indeed be reformed. Find the article below.


Has South Africa become unreformable?

By Ivo Vegter

If you haven’t yet seen Annika Larsen’s interview with outgoing Eskom CEO André de Ruyter on eNews Channel Africa, you should take an hour and do so

It left cabinet ministers and senior ANC figures seething. Pravin Gordhan, public enterprises minister and nominal political boss of Eskom was so outraged that he summarily dismissed De Ruyter, relieving him of the obligation to complete his notice period, and telling him to keep his political opinions to himself.

Other than pro forma assurances that government was responding appropriately to corruption at Eskom, Gordhan neglected to deny any of the accusations De Ruyter leveled at government.

Treasury minister Enoch Godongwana was equally indignant, but beyond saying that a task team was appointed and several arrests were made, he too did not respond to any specific claims De Ruyter made.

‘Crickets’

De Ruyter sketched an organisation that is shot through with corruption at every level. He estimates that a billion rand a month continues to be looted from Eskom, and it operates as a ‘feeding trough’ for the ANC.

On the Mpumalanga Highveld, four separate crime syndicates were identified, some with tentacles stretching beyond Eskom into Transnet, but when corruption cases are reported, says De Ruyter, the response from police or state security agents is ‘crickets’. 

‘In one instance, we managed to effect the arrest of a buyer who had bought on behalf of Eskom knee guards, which you use when you have to kneel to do welding or whatever the case may be’, he told Larsen. ‘Now these things cost about R320 a pair at Builder’s Warehouse. We paid R80 000 each. So the arrest was effected. I insisted that we had the equivalent of a perp walk at the power station, to demonstrate that we were taking crime seriously. But the following day, the individual was released, no charges, on the instructions of a senior police officer. Now, you have to say, how is this possible? So I think it’s fair to say that the response of the SAPS hitherto has been disappointing.’

Without naming names, he said that a cabinet minister was entirely blasé when it was reported to him that a senior politician was involved in corruption. Others told him to be less naïve and more accommodating in ‘showing the comrades a way to eat’.

When De Ruyter insisted on adding ‘enhanced anti-bribery and anti-corruption clauses’ into a contract with a prospective supplier, he said that government officials resisted. 

‘Why would anyone not want to support anti-corruption measures?’ he asked.

Read more: Jay Naidoo: Suppression of freedom of speech – a path to tyranny. It injures and kills.

Corrupt contracts

He elaborated on the terminally dilapidated state of Eskom, not only thanks to decades of neglect and a critical loss of skills, but also because of corrupt supplier contracts. 

He singled out the Medupi and Kusile boiler contracts with Hitachi, which employed Chancellor House, the ANC’s investment and funding vehicle, as the black-empowerment intermediary. 

De Ruyter alleges that specifications were manipulated to ensure Hitachi got the contract, which resulted in design flaws that led to frequent breakdowns – including the present shutdown of three units at Kusile – without which South Africa would not be suffering as much loadshedding as it does today.

The criminal cartels, he said, have adopted the language of the mafia, and are sophisticated and well-organised. Allegedly, they operate a hit squad of between 60 and 70 people, who are highly trained and well-armed.

‘People get assassinated in Mpumalanga’, he said. ‘I think the media has become very used to these reports, so it doesn’t receive much airtime anymore, but every week, pretty much, there’s an assassination.’

In Standerton, where Tutuka Power Station is located, the plant manager wears a bullet-proof vest and is accompanied by armed guards just to do his job, in the face of a well-organised racket which feeds off the power station and which engineers breakages to direct ‘work’ to corrupt maintenance contractors.

‘So it’s deeply entrenched, and it is highly organised’, he said, adding that it is almost impossible to combat syndicates that will bribe low-level contractors to conduct sabotage operations, timed to coincide with conveniently malfunctioning security cameras.

Cyanide

He related his own cyanide poisoning in December in gruesome detail, and marvelled at the fact that an attempted assassination on the head of the country’s single most important parastatal – which constitutes an attack on the state – elicited no more response from government than the dispatching of a pair of middle-aged detective-sergeants to take his statement. 

‘If you are middle-aged and you’re still a sergeant in the police, then you haven’t really shot the lights out, career-wise’, he joked. 

The intrepid officers did not know what ‘cyanide’ is, asked if that meant he had problems with his ‘sinuses’, and shrugged that they were not to know technical medical terms.

‘I think like most South Africans, I actually believed that with ZS-OAK [the private jet of the Guptas] departing from Lanseria, that the era of state capture had come to an end,’ he said. 

‘But what I hadn’t realised is that state capture was like a cancer that was unsuccessfully treated, so it has just metastasised, and it has now grown throughout the body of the organisation. Everywhere, there is resistance to implementing controls, to conducting investigations, to implementing disciplinary action. [I realised] the rot was much worse than I had anticipated.’

Read more: South Africa’s power woes: Lessons from China, Greece, and Colombia on how to fix Eskom’s problems

Marxists

The dire picture De Ruyter paints of the situation raises the question if Eskom – and the rest of the country – can ever be rehabilitated. 

‘There’s a narrative that the state should control everything,’ he explained. ‘Unfortunately, the ghosts of Marx and Lenin still haunt the halls of Luthuli House. People are still firmly committed to a 1980s-style ideology. They still address one another as comrade, which is frankly embarrassing. They use words like lumpen-proletariat, which is ridiculous, because these things were last said in 1980s East Germany. 

‘And when such individuals talk to foreign diplomats and foreign investors, the bemusement, the puzzlement in which they leave those meetings really creates a big problem for South Africa’s credibility, because people say we haven’t heard such language since the fall of the Berlin Wall; what do these people think?’

Vested interests

The problem goes deeper than that, however. The outdated communist mindset of the ANC could be swept into the dustbin of history if the ANC were to lose enough electoral support for an opposition coalition to unseat it.

However, the crime syndicates and patronage networks that have wormed their way into every nook and cranny of the civil service, parastatals and government, from cabinet ministers to cleaners, along with the corrupt crony-capitalists that feed on them, all have vested interests or clients to protect. 

‘When you start turning the spigots closed, then people will get upset,’ he said, soft-pedaling what are, in fact, attempted and actual assassinations.

This is, of course, not limited to Eskom, as the brutal assassination of corruption whistleblower Babita Deokaran made abundantly clear, which is why the question of whether Eskom can be rehabilitated applies equally well to the rest of the public sector.

Read more: Jay Naidoo: ‘New Apartheid’ is even worse than Nats, it’s determined to take our lives

Mafia

That the enemy is well-organised, entrenched and deadly is a problem not only for the ANC government and its appointees, but will also be a problem for a putative new regime.

When the criminal gangs start taking up arms to protect their turf, and bribe, threaten or intimidate officials into doing their bidding, it is no longer just a case of firing the incompetent and corrupt, appointing competent and honest replacements, and calling it a job done.

Law enforcement agencies in the US have made significant progress in dismantling the American Mafia, but that project began in earnest in the 1950s and is still ongoing. The Mafia owned or controlled entire cities. 

For many decades, the campaign against the Mafia involved a brutal shooting war between gangsters and federal law enforcement agents.

Defeating entrenched organised crime and corruption is far more easily said than done. And if De Ruyter’s experience with the police is anything to go by, South African authorities have neither the appetite nor the skills to prosecute and win such a war. 

So it isn’t just a matter of whether the ANC will act against corruption. We know it won’t. It isn’t at all clear that a new government will be able to do so, either. Not without a lot of bloodshed, at least. 

Listening to De Ruyter, it seems we may have to get used to living in a gangster’s paradise.

*Ivo Vegter is a freelance journalist, columnist and speaker who loves debunking myths and misconceptions, and addresses topics from the perspective of individual liberty and free markets. Follow him on Twitter, @IvoVegter.

The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR.

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