/ 4 May 2023

BLSA on Eskom investigation: ‘We don’t go out of our way to meddle”

Eskom Flag
Eskom has reported a 6% decline in sales in its interim results for the six months ending in September, revealing a sustained decrease in plant performance. (Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA) chief executive Busi Mavuso has batted away conflict of interest allegations relating to the lobby group’s decision to fund an investigation into Eskom while she was serving on the utility’s board.

Mavuso, who also denied that BLSA meddled in Eskom’s affairs, underlined the investigation’s achievements — which she and Business Unity South Africa chief executive Cas Coovadia suggested have been overshadowed by recent controversy.

The BLSA was recently pulled into the Eskom scandal, when it emerged that the organisation had bankrolled an investigation into corruption at the power utility to the tune of R18 million. 

When the BLSA was approached to fund the investigation, reportedly by former Eskom chief executive André de Ruyter, Mavuso was serving as a member of Eskom’s board.

According to Mavuso — who held a question and answer session with the media alongside Coovadia on Thursday afternoon — the investigation was meant to help Eskom from an operational perspective by enabling the utility to gather intelligence. The investigation was not a strategic issue, she said.

Mavuso also noted that the request for funding was made to the BLSA’s leadership and not to her personally. She added that providing such funding is part of the normal course of business for the BLSA, which has a strategic objective to enable a capable state.

“The request made to BLSA was to support work that they would ordinarily support. So this was not a request which was odd, which was an anomaly,” Mavuso said.

“Before I was an Eskom board member, BLSA did this work. When I was an Eskom board member, BLSA continued to do this work. And after I was an Eskom board member, BLSA continues to do this work.”

The nature of the BLSA’s work, Mavuso added, “was never going to change because I am an Eskom director”.

The Eskom intelligence report has recently attracted considerable controversy after the release of a News24 article claiming that it contained untested allegations concocted by Tony Oosthuizen, a key member of an apartheid-era secret military intelligence unit.

Responding to the report, BLSA confirmed that De Ruyter came to the organisation with the proposal, but underlined that it was not involved in selecting Fivaz.

The BLSA further noted that it provides technical, financial and other forms of support to various branches of the government, statutory institutions, and NGOs “in pursuit of the socio-economic growth and development objectives of all South Africans”. 

This week the Black Business Council (BBC) hit out at the BLSA for sponsoring the “off-the-books investigation”.

“The BBC views this as inappropriate and teetering on serious interference by BLSA in the affairs of Eskom. More worrying is that the BLSA CEO, Ms Busisiwe Mavuso, was an active board member of Eskom and was seriously conflicted,” the council said.

But on Thursday Mavuso denied allegations of interference. “I guess maybe in some corners that might be viewed as interference, but from where we are sitting it is not interference.

“And also because we understand that after the state capture project, we are sitting with a government and state owned entities that were intentionally hollowed out. The hollowing out means that some of the capacity that these institutions require for them to do what is in the ordinary course of business they are not in a position to do.”

“We don’t go out of our way to meddle,” Mavuso added.

Coovadia echoed this sentiment, saying that the work organised business was being asked to fund would enable the authorities to pursue alleged wrongdoers. “We didn’t consider that interference.”

He further claimed that the report, despite being mired in controversy, achieved what it set out to do. “We are confident that this wasn’t a waste of time. This wasn’t a waste of money. And we believe that a lot more could be done from the report in ongoing investigations.”