South Africa’s African National Congress has mounted a scathing attack on the outgoing chief executive of the blackout-prone Eskom, who was ousted after he accused senior members of the ruling party of involvement in corruption at the electricity monopoly.
President Cyril Ramaphosa’s party accused André de Ruyter of being a “naysayer” with “rightwing ideological posture” on Thursday after he claimed in a television interview that ANC politicians were complicit in high-level graft at Eskom.
“His opportunistic venture into the political arena has unmasked his regressive political and ideological agenda . . . We also reject his unfortunate, irresponsible, and baseless claims of alleged political meddling and corruption at the embattled power utility,” the party said.
De Ruyter was removed with immediate effect by Eskom’s board on Wednesday, without the appointment of an acting chief executive, even as the utility that generates nearly all of South Africa’s electricity imposes rolling blackouts of up to 12 hours a day.
The Eskom chief, who was due to step down next month after announcing his resignation in December over a loss of political support, warned that the country faced even worse outages in the interview with South Africa’s eNCA which aired this week.
His frank comments about looting that is driving the collapse of Eskom’s workhorse fleet of ageing coal power stations, and blame for the ANC’s “1980s-style ideology” of state control, appear to have shaken the governing party.
The ANC said that de Ruyter was working to “undermine the efforts of patriotic South Africans” — echoing accusations of treason that were levelled against him last year by Gwede Mantashe, the energy minister.
The ANC is under intense pressure over the energy crisis ahead of elections next year. Surveys indicate that the party could lose its parliamentary majority for the first time in the 2024 poll, three decades after the movement gained power.
“They want what will win them the next election — not what will keep the country going for the next two decades,” de Ruyter said in the interview, adding that he had failed to stem the rolling blackouts.
De Ruyter said that he had raised concerns about the involvement of an unnamed “particular high-level politician” in corruption at Eskom, but had been brushed aside by a minister.
He added that a senior minister had told him “you have to enable some people to eat a little bit” after he expressed concern about the governance of $8.5bn in climate financing that South Africa will receive from western governments to help fund its transition to green energy.
“It seems rather odd a board would force out a CEO after an interview raising the widely known issue of rent extraction in and between the government and Eskom,” said Peter Attard Montalto, head of capital markets at Intellidex, the South African research firm.
“A live wire has clearly been touched and the board has succumbed to political interference to remove him.”
In the interview de Ruyter also sharply criticised the ANC over its state intervention policies, which he said bemused foreign investors. “The ghosts of Marx and Lenin still haunt the halls” of the party’s headquarters, he said.
Of his own brush with death in December, when he became violently sick on the day he resigned after allegedly drinking poisoned coffee in his office, de Ruyter expressed little hope that it would be investigated properly. Police sent to probe the matter had been briefed that he had problems with his sinuses, as opposed to cyanide.
On Wednesday South Africa’s National Treasury said it would backstop the majority of Eskom’s R400bn ($22bn) debt with state cash to meet payments due in the next three years, and a pledge to take over a portion of the utility’s loans in future.