/ 24 May 2023

Scopa to recall former Eskom boss André de Ruyter

African Mining Indaba 2023
Brigadier Jap Burger is central to the fraud and corruptions claims made by the power utility’s former chief executive André de Ruyter. (David Harrison)

Parliament’s watchdog standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) has resolved to recall former Eskom chief executive André de Ruyter to answer more questions on his allegations on corruption at the company embroiling senior politicians.

Chairperson Mkhuleko Hlengwa said the committee would also call Business Unity South Africa (Busa) chief executive and former Eskom board member Busisiwe Mavuso because she appeared to have knowledge of the private investigation De Ruyter launched into organised crime at the power utility. 

“It does seem that some knew about it and some didn’t and she would be in the category of those who were privy to the work of intelligence gathering,” Hlengwa said.

In his recently published memoir of his time running Eskom, De Ruyter wrote that Busa helped to fund the investigation by George Fivaz Forensic and Risk, the firm run by the former national police commissioner.

De Ruyter was nudged out of Eskom a month before the end of his notice period after going public with the investigation’s purported conclusions regarding the involvement of ANC politicians in graft at the company, in a television interview aired in February.

Scopa has for a few weeks been the theatre of conflicting testimony regarding who was told what about graft at Eskom. In one example, former acting Eskom board chairperson Malegapuru Makgoba told committee members that Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan encouraged De Ruyter to mount an intelligence-gathering exercise.

“I was informed and I think the minister of public enterprises was actually the one who brought up this matter, because of the way Eskom was besieged and he said to André: ‘You know you have to gather some intelligence somehow’,” he said.

Appearing before the committee a week later, Gordhan said Makgoba was “misleading and misinforming Scopa and the public”.

He said 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.”

A week earlier, current board chairperson Mpho Makwana also accused De Ruyter of misleading the public and bringing the company into disrepute.

On Wednesday, Scopa member Benedicta van Minnen said she believed it was vital for the committee to get to the veracity of a very confused situation, marked by contradictory accounts of what transpired.

“It is very much a case of ‘he said, no he said, no he said’, if you just look for example at the documents that were produced here between what the current board chair was saying and what Prof Makgoba was saying about what André is saying,” she said

“So it is to an extent very difficult to draw firm conclusions from this … It is a very muddled and in a way a very anecdotal situation that we are sitting with.”

Van Minnen and others called for a full-scale parliamentary inquiry but Hlengwa noted that he did not believe the National Assembly would agree to establish an ad hoc committee to investigate the entity, given that it rejected such a motion earlier this year.

But he said nothing stopped Scopa from conducting its own inquiry and reporting its findings to MPs. 

Hlengwa asked committee members to submit a final list of “persons of interest” for Scopa to call. He said he believed it should include Brigadier Jap Burger, who De Ruyter said was appointed by national police commissioner Fannie Masemola as a “liaison between the Fivaz investigators and the police” after a meeting in June 2022. 

“He is a sort of common denominator, so we need a protracted engagement with him,” Hlengwa said. “He is sort of the point of convergence of all these interactions.”

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s national security adviser, Sydney Mufamadi, is due to appear before the committee on Friday. 

In his book, De Ruyter said he told Gordhan that there was intelligence that a senior ANC politician was involved in corruption at Eskom. Gordhan then turned to Mufamadi, he said, and quipped that he supposed it was inevitable that this would emerge. 

When he appeared before Scopa, De Ruyter declined to name the politician, or the minister. Gordhan, for his part, has said he could not remember whether he made such a remark to Mufamadi.

De Ruyter told Scopa that he was speaking in a highly litigious environment, and did not want to create the impression that the minister in question had condoned corruption.

 The ANC had that morning filed papers with the Pretoria high court to sue him for defamation for agreeing, in the television interview, with a suggestion that Eskom served as a “feeding trough” for the ANC.