Load shedding, sabotage and cyanide: in South Africa, the thousand and one dangers of electricity
Subject to almost daily power cuts for more than six months, South Africa is at the end of its tether. Exasperation ended up turning into tragedy in the municipality of Ekurhuleni, at the gates of Johannesburg. To the load shedding imposed up to ten hours a day is added here the vandalism of the “cable thieves” who strip the electrical installations of their copper to resell it on the black market. On March 6, a team of contractors had just been called in to repair one of these cables when they were attacked by the crowd. Accused of being copper thieves, the four technicians were beaten to death.
In the power plants of Eskom, the public electricity company, the threat is of a different nature. Officially, the unprecedented level of load shedding is attributed to the company’s lack of production capacity, aggravated by the dilapidated state of the coal-fired power stations, which are more than 40 years old. for the majority. But another factor weighs on the situation: since the company intensified its efforts to put an end to a corruption whose extent the country discovers every day a little more, the unexplained breakdowns, the proven sabotages and the threats against the staff are increasing.
Characterized by a level of criminality ” significant “, according to Eskom management, the Tutuka coal-fired power station, two hours from Johannesburg, is operating at less than 17% of its capacity. The site manager travels in a bulletproof vest, accompanied by two armed men. “His wife is protected by bodyguards, his children are also escorted by bodyguards when they go to school, because of death threats against him and his family”, confided André de Ruyter, then CEO of Eskom, in a hearing before a parliamentary committee on January 24. The company’s chief operating officer has also received threats.
“Cartels” supported by an armada of killers
Boss of Eskom for three years, André de Ruyter himself revealed that he had been the victim of an attempted poisoning after drinking coffee during a work meeting. “About fifteen minutes after that cup of coffee, I started feeling nauseous, I got confused, I couldn’t find the word for ‘power station’. “, he said on February 21 in an explosive interview broadcast by the South African channel ENCA. Seized by violent tremors and then vomiting, he was treated urgently. A toxicological analysis will reveal levels “significantly high” cyanide in his body.
Who could have wanted the skin of the boss of Eskom? “When you start turning off the taps, people get upset”, answers André de Ruyter, who estimates that around 50 million euros are diverted each month from the company. At the heart of the system, several “cartels” supported by an armada of killers, “between 60 and 70 trained and well-armed people”he explains: “It’s hard to speculate who might have wanted to take my life, but obviously the list of people with motives is long. »
André de Ruyter assures that at least “a high-level politician” would be involved in these embezzlements
The number of his enemies has not diminished since these declarations. Because André de Ruyter has also accused the African National Congress (ANC, Nelson Mandela’s party, in power since the fall of apartheid) of being an accomplice in the corruption that plagues Eskom. He notably recounted having warned a minister of his fear of seeing billions of dollars intended to finance the energy transition fall prey to criminal appetites. “You know, you have to be pragmatic: to do good, you have to allow some people to eat a little”, he would have been answered. André de Ruyter also ensures that at least “a high-level politician” would be involved in these large-scale diversions.
Dropped by the executive as President Cyril Ramaphosa prepared to play for his re-election as head of the ANC, André de Ruyter announced his resignation in December 2022 and was due to leave Eskom in March. He was finally relieved of his duties less than twenty-four hours after the broadcast of his shock interview. In the aftermath, he was violently attacked by a parade of ruling party heavyweights. “The ANC is not corrupt”thundered in particular its secretary general, Fikile Mbalula, rejecting the “unfortunate, irresponsible and baseless allegations” of the now ex-CEO, accused of seeking a political destiny on the side of the “regressive right”.
The ANC, “accused number 1” in terms of corruption
Bulk denials that contrast with the time, not so long ago, when President Ramaphosa recognized that the party was “accused number 1” in terms of corruption. “This is the harsh reality we now have to face”, explained the Head of State in August 2020, calling on the movement to do its introspection. Rather than launching an investigation into the accusations raised, the ANC this time summoned André de Ruyter to provide proof of his allegations. Otherwise, the party promises legal action against the former boss.
After declaring a state of national disaster to deal with the energy crisis, Cyril Ramaphosa appointed an electricity minister, the first of its kind in South Africa, in a paltry reshuffle on March 6. But barely taking office, Kgosientsho Ramokgopa warned that he had no “neither the capacity nor the mandate to tackle corruption issues”. The new minister refers the problem to the police, deemed ineffective in this area by the former CEO of Eskom.
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André de Ruyter, he has not spoken in public since his sensational exit. To the journalist who asked him, at the end of the interview, if he feared for his life after his revelations, the manager replied that he intended to spend time abroad. Just before, he gave advice to his successor: “Don’t have an assigned mug. »