/ 26 April 2023

D-Day for ANC as De Ruyter appears before parliament committee

Former Eskom chief executive Andre De Ruyter. Photo: Supplied

South Africans expect revelations as important as those emanating from the state capture commission when former Eskom chief executive Andre de Ruyter appears virtually before a physical sitting of the standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) on Wednesday.  

De Ruyter’s anticipated submissions about the corruption networks, sabotage and incompetence at Eskom — and the indifference to both from the governing ANC, its ministers and officials — could provide a moment of truth for graft-fatigued citizens, who are yet to experience any meaningful movement on Chief Justice Raymond Zondo’s state capture commission recommendations.

Two narratives have played out publicly since February, when De Ruyter made his damning allegations to eNCA about how the battered power utility — poised to officially enter stage eight and possibly higher load-shedding levels in winter — is mismanaged and allegedly gorged on by seemingly insatiable ANC cadres and politically-protected criminal syndicates.

In the first narrative, Scopa members will have to consider De Ruyter’s allegations — the product of his direct interaction with local and foreign investors — that the ANC’s quasi-socialist ideology is an obstacle to reforming Eskom (and other collapsing parastatals) and that criminal syndicates linked to the governing party are sabotaging the national electricity provider to supplement their lifestyles.

De Ruyter alleged in the interview that at least two senior ANC leaders — former deputy president David Mabuza later being named by Democratic Alliance leader John Steenhuisen as one — were the shadow hands behind the R1-billion a month that, by De Ruyter’s estimation, is looted at Eskom.  

The second narrative is the one being peddled by the ANC: that it is not corrupt, and that De Ruyter made the allegations because he is a white Afrikaner who failed in his job and is unable to shake his capitalist ideology. Even if there are corrupt individuals in the governing party, ANC thinking goes, that the number is miniscule, and the party stands as a beacon of integrity and hope.

Wednesday could also be a moment of truth for parliament — an institution with oversight that benefits only the governing party and its leaders.

But Scopa, which has as tradition an opposition party chairperson, is a slightly different beast. It is chaired by Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) MP Mkhuleko Hlengwa.

The IFP will probably have a seat at the table during coalition talks if the ANC does not have an outright win in the national and provincial general elections next year. KwaZulu-Natal will certainly be on the table, where the ANC could lose its majority. Showing true leadership in a high stakes public investigation will place the IFP and its leaders — most notably Hlengwa, who is viewed as an exciting young political prospect — in strong negotiation positions.

But truth could also be the victim on Wednesday. The session could descend into racial tropes being hurled at De Ruyter by the ANC and the Economic Freedom Fighters. The ANC Scopa members could stage a walkout in protest over a “political attack” on the party, thus using their majority to slam shut any possibility for the National Assembly to launch a full inquiry.

Truth is a contested space in South Africa. It has never been easier to label information “fake news” or to claim a person or organisation is the victim of a “third force disinformation campaign”, or that the “Western controlled media” is trying to set a narrative to “force regime change”.

But in the end, no matter how much one tries to provide alternative facts, the truth will be revealed. Deception, propped up by complex lies in a multi-tiered organisation such as Eskom, cannot sustain constant and intense scrutiny when political will is added to the mix.

At some point, the lie will be exposed.

Will De Ruyter provide that breach in the sea of lies we have come to expect from the governing party or will he, like so many before him, fade into the distance as we hurtle towards a new crisis?