/ 30 April 2024

‘Zuma a wolf in sheep’s clothing’ … Mbeki lays into his successor on campaign trail

S. Africa Ruling Party Centenary
Former president Thabo Mbeki has laid the blame for South Africa’s energy crisis at the feet of his successor Jacob Zuma (Photo by Kyodo News Stills via Getty Images)

Former president Thabo Mbeki has laid the blame for South Africa’s energy crisis at the feet of his successor Jacob Zuma, calling him a “wolf in sheep’s clothing”. 

Speaking during an ANC campaign event on Tuesday commemorating 30 years of democracy, the ruling party veteran said a false narrative had been circulated that power utility Eskom had warned the government as early as 1998 that, if no immediate steps were taken to build new generation capacity, the country would suffer serious load-shedding from 2007.

Mbeki said, with that in mind, his apologies to the country in late 2007 and early 2008 over the crisis were misplaced. 

“This was because the January 2008 national load-shedding was completely unnecessary, and had been deliberately engineered from within Eskom, and had absolutely nothing to do with any failures by the government,” he said, describing this as “counter-revolutionary”.

He said a Special Investigating Unit report which was handed to Zuma in 2017 found that Eskom’s executive management and board had not heeded warnings from employees that the utility was facing a potential shortage of coal by December 2007. 

“Simply, the Eskom station managers had defied instructions to replenish their coal stocks until they literally ran out of coal at many of the power stations. This was a deliberate attempt to compromise the supply of electricity,” he said.

Under his leadership in 2004, the government had issued the directive to Eskom to build new power stations, Medupi and Kusile.

“Over the years, regular Eskom communications have reported that it started building Medupi in 2007, three years after the government directive. This report is incorrect and tries to hide some bitter truth. The reality is that Eskom started building Medupi much earlier than 2007,” he said.

“The truth is that the company commissioned to prepare the site for the building of the power station did not do its geotechnical work properly. The result is that when construction started, the building sank into the soil. Construction had to stop. What had been built had to be destroyed and work had to start afresh to prepare the site for construction.”

Mbeki said a forensic investigation by law firm Dentons, commissioned by the Eskom board, found that this had led to changes in the foundations, which caused significant cost increases and substantial delays of around 12 to 18 months.

“Here was a deliberate attempt to delay the building of new electricity generating capacity,” he said.

Mbeki cited former Eskom CEO André de Ruyter’s high court affidavit which stated that, as of 2005, Eskom had not built a new power station for about 16 years and had significantly reduced its skills and capacity to execute mega-construction projects.

“Strangely, however, instead of awarding turnkey contracts for the building of the new power stations, Medupi, Kusile and Ingula, Eskom awarded 34 contract packages at Medupi, 46 contract packages at Kusile and 27 contract packages at Ingula,” he said. 

He added that if what he called the deliberately engineered 2008 load-shedding was discounted, the first national load-shedding took place late in 2014 and persisted until August 2015, largely oscillating between stages one and two.

“This means that there was no load-shedding for at least six years after the 2008 incident. The question is — what happened to end this happy situation?”

Mbeki said the report by Dentons showed that Eskom had been underspending on maintaining its generation equipment since 1999 and 2000, and that during that period, the utility had deprioritised maintenance. 

“The Eskom engineers knew very well that failure to do the right thing about the maintenance and refurbishment of the generation plant would result in power failure,” he said.

“The practical reality is that this failure contributed directly to the counter-revolutionary objective to compromise the supply of electricity to our country. 

“The construction of Medupi and Kusile started in 2007 and 2008, respectively, and both power stations were planned to be commissioned in 2014, seven and six years later, respectively.

“Contrary to this, two years ago, Eskom expected that Medupi and Kusile would only be fully commissioned in 2023 and 2026, respectively. The reality, therefore, is that if Eskom had kept to the 2014 timeframe, we would never have had the power crisis we have been experiencing,” he said. 

Referring to the commission of inquiry by retired Judge Robert Nugent into the South African Revenue Service (Sars), and the Zondo commission on state capture’s report on the Reserve Bank, Mbeki said they stated that Zuma, while president, participated in a process to reduce the revenue needed for the government to discharge its responsibilities, leading to the possible collapse of that government.

“How do we explain this puzzle? The only logical way to explain this is that, challenging as this might be even to comprehend, here we are dealing with a wolf in sheep’s skin!” Mbeki said.

“Accordingly, in terms of this logic, the involvement of such a ‘wolf’, so to speak, in the effort to destroy Sars, would not be surprising, as it would represent the discharge of its responsibilities as part of the counter-revolution. Time will tell whether this logical deduction is, in fact, correct.”

He also pointed to the hollowing out of law enforcement agencies during Zuma’s tenure, saying it could reasonably be argued that part of the process of disabling the police would be the placement of officials such as Berning Ntlemeza in positions of authority.

Mbeki said it would be dishonest not to mention that some of the negative developments in the country’s governance over the 30 years of democracy were a result of negative actions by members of the ruling ANC and that the party itself had recognised the validity of his observations.