/ 17 May 2023

Gordhan refutes claims he knew about Eskom intelligence report

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Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan.

Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan said on Wednesday that he was unaware of former Eskom chief executive André de Ruyter’s privately-funded intelligence gathering operation to combat corruption at the failing state-owned entity.

Appearing before the standing committee on public accounts, Gordhan said the former interim chairperson of the previous Eskom board, Malegapuru Makgoba, was “misleading and misinforming Scopa and the public” when he appeared before Scopa and said Gordhan knew about the operation. 

Makgoba told the committee last week that it was the minister’s idea that the utility should gather intelligence to combat corruption. Makgoba said he believed the police were “asleep” as far as sabotage and corruption at Eskom were concerned, and only “woke up” after De Ruyter initiated a privately funded intelligence-driven operation.

Gordhan told Scopa that De Ruyter did not discuss his plans to gather intelligence and had rather mentioned it “merely in passing”.  

“He was operating on his own free will on this project, and it seems at the same time he was writing a book as well, other than focusing on his job of keeping the power stations providing electricity to South Africans,” Gordhan said.

De Ruyter’s book, Truth to Power: My Three Years Inside Eskom, officially released over the weekend, cites several meetings he had with Gordhan during which he informed the minister about the intelligence gathering project.

According to De Ruyter, in a discussion with Gordhan last year, he “lifted the lid slightly” on what the private investigators had uncovered, that the problem was predominantly in Mpumalanga, and that “it goes very high”.

After this brief interaction, De Ruyter wrote that on that same day in May 2022, he, together with Sydney Mufamadi, the national security adviser to President Cyril Ramaphosa, visited Gordhan at his home where further discussions took place regarding corruption and intelligence gathering at Eskom.

“I told him of the sabotage and schemes that Eskom’s security team and the private investigators had uncovered. Load-shedding was not a coincidence. Apart from poor maintenance and management, corruption and other crimes were conspiring to keep the performance of the plants in the doldrums. This is a low-grade war we are engaged in, and we get no support,” wrote De Ruyter.  

The former executive contends he told Gordhan that more than one mafia-type network was active inside Eskom and that “no fewer than five of the 16 power station managers had allegedly been compromised”.

Scopa chairperson Mkhuleko Hlengwa said on Wednesday that Mfumadi was expected to appear before the watchdog committee “in due course”. 

Responding to what he did know, Gordhan said he was shown a diagram with “a lot of names on it”.

It has been alleged that the names of at least two senior politicians said to be involved in graft at Eskom, are known to the minister. 

But Gordhan told Scopa: “I’m not going to implicate, smear the reputations of others without credible evidence and verifiable facts being provided.”

The intelligence gathered by the firm used by De Ruyter, “as some of you might remember, has done a great deal of harm and immeasurable damage to our country and to its institutions and, by the way, to individuals”.

The intelligence work was done by the private firm of former police commissioner George Fivaz.

Gordhan told Scopa that he was not given any reports on investigations and from what he understood, the reports were preliminary and “certainly not evidence”.

Democratic Alliance committee member Alf Lees was persistent in his quest to determine whether Gordhan had at least approached the two implicated people after he was shown the diagram in mid-2022.  

Gordhan answered: “If I see a name somewhere and if I don’t know how much validity it has, how do I go to someone and say ‘I saw your name, what you going to say?’”

“So you didn’t approach them?” pushed Lees.

“I’m saying, your question does not have any validity, and it is not the basis on which anyone would operate, and you know it,” said Gordhan.

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