Political and social turbulence has swirled fiercely ever since former Eskom CEO André de Ruyter appeared in that explosive television interview in February, and has intensified with the release of his book.
The tumult has been amplified further by US ambassador Reuben Brigety’s allegation that South Africa shipped defence equipment or ammunition to Russia in direct conflict with the country’s official nonaligned stance in relation to the war in Ukraine, sparked by Russia’s invasion of it sovereign neighbour.
While the incidents are distinct in nature, they point to a common theme, which is that the country is in serious peril.
Prior to De Ruyter’s eNCA appearance, it was widely accepted that the State-owned utility was a hotbed of corruption, but that efforts, albeit insufficient, were under way to tackle the scourge, and to combat the rising threat of politically motivated sabotage.
After the interview, however, the scale of the problem seemed close to insurmountable, as it indicated that South Africa’s largest State-owned company had succumbed to the so-called ‘mafia State’, whereby just about every supply chain had been infiltrated by organised criminals, with the support of the political elite.
If it was taking place at Eskom, South Africans could be sure it was happening across all the other State-owned companies, as well as procurement-heavy departments, such as health and education, not to mention the corruption-prone municipal sector.
It would not be long before these networks infiltrated other sectors of society, much as illicit cigarette trade did across most suburbs during the smoking ban introduced as part of the country’s Covid lockdowns.
Even South Africa’s highly regulated trade in defence equipment may have been compromised, with government’s strong denial that any officially sanctioned defence equipment or ammunition was loaded on to the Lady R cargo vessel suggestive of a possible rogue trade. As with the coal cartels, such a trade could not have happened in the absence of some form of political cover, given the supposed lack of formal authorisation.
As would be anticipated, the response of the authorities to both the De Ruyter revelations and the allegations made by Brigety have been ultra-defensive.
In both instances, the door was left open by the missteps of the accusers.
Political slights in De Ruyter’s interview and book, together with a lack of discernment in who he selected to conduct the privately funded intelligence operation, have made it easy to dismiss him as politically malicious. The decision to contract with a publisher while still at the utility was also a dubious one, even though the book itself offers vital insights for those serious about tackling Eskom’s problems.
Likewise, the surprising inability of Brigety to fully hold the line after engaging in hand-grenade diplomacy allowed Pretoria to exploit a seeming gap that emerged between him and Washington.
It’s no time for distracting counter claims and investigations or nationalistic self-righteousness, however. It’s time for decisive action against the criminal networks, before all hope is truly lost.
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