March 5. 2024. 12:36

The Daily

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Ramaphosa hampered by corruption allegations and power cuts

Explosive allegations made by Eskom’s former chief executive about the scale of corruption undermining South Africa’s power utility have cast a long shadow over President Cyril Ramaphosa’s campaign to clean up the ruling party.

In a recent interview with broadcaster eNCA, Andre de Ruyter claimed the state-run enterprise was losing up to a billion rand (€52 million) a month to graft and theft perpetrated by crime syndicates linked to senior ruling party officials who benefit from the looting.

The company has been imposing daily power cuts to to keep the electricity grid from crashing. De Ruyter claimed the rolling blackouts – known locally as “load-shedding” – are due to deliberate, politically-motivated sabotage.

He also warned there was major opposition in the government to a move towards clean energy at Eskom, and that the transition away from coal-generated electricity was being resisted by vested interests in the fossil fuel’s value chain.

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The February 22nd interview surprised many people when it aired, as de Ruyter had kept his nose out of politics since assuming the role of the beleaguered power utility’s 13th chief executive since load-shedding began nearly two decades ago.

But the 54-year-old has endured a torrid time since his appointment in 2019, and it appears that an apparent attempt to poison him by spiking his coffee with cyanide on December 12th pushed him to his breaking point.

In an interview with the Financial Times in early March de Ruyter said his toxicologist had confirmed that given the amount of cyanide that had been used the poisoning “was indeed a murder attempt, not just a warning”.

De Ruyter resigned from Eskom shortly after the incident, citing a lack of political support to tackle the energy crisis, and he was serving out his three-month notice period when he made allegations of corruption occurring under his watch.

The ANC’s response to the whistleblower has been to threaten him with legal action if he does not retract the allegations and apologise, saying the former chief executive had provided no direct evidence to support his claims that ruling party officials were up to their necks in graft at Eskom.

The saga has cast an air of despondency over the nation, which is slowly but surely losing faith in Ramaphosa’s ability to rid the ANC of the endemic corruption that took hold under his predecessor Jacob Zuma between 2009 and 2018.

South Africa’s fifth post-apartheid president came into power in 2019 on the back of promises to tackle the public-sector graft, and has made some progress.

However, the Eskom scandal clearly shows that links between organised crime and the state stubbornly persist. Only last week South Africa was “grey-listed” by the Financial Action Task Force, which effectively puts it on a global anti-money laundering watchlist for not doing enough to fight organised crime.

With general elections next year, Ramaphosa and the ANC’s chances of winning re-election with a clear majority appear to rest on their ability to resolve , the power cuts issue, which is key to developing the economy.

Without a well-functioning Eskom, there is little chance of the economic growth needed to create jobs. Although South Africa’s economy grew by 2 per cent in 2022, economists say that 5 to 6 per cent growth is required to reduce its 33 per cent unemployment rate.

South Africa first experienced load-shedding power cuts in 2005, but industry experts who warned for years that Eskom’s ailing and aging power infrastructure needed upgrading have been ignored by successive ANC governments.

The situation has now become so bad that most South Africans are facing power cuts for up to 10 hours every day, and there is no end in sight in the short to medium term.

While a tiny minority of wealthy people have the option of taking their homes and businesses off the national power grid by installing small-scale solar and wind power projects at their premises, the majority have been left to tough it out.

This latter group includes the ANC’s traditional voters, who according to recent local and general election results are deserting the former liberation movement in droves due to its perceived corruption and poor service delivery.

To tackle the energy crisis Ramaphosa has recently declared a national state of disaster to fast-track interventions to turn things around, and on March 7th he announced a new minister-of-electricity position in a cabinet reshuffle, which will be the last before next year’s crucial poll.

It now seems likely that how the ANC goes about tackling load-shedding over the next 12 months will have a major impact on the way voters cast their ballot.

If they are unsuccessful, their chances of retaining a strong grip on power are slim, and the country may be plunged into a new era of coalition rule at the national level.