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Former Eskom CEO André de Ruyter. Picture: BRENTON GEACH/GALLO IMAGES
Former Eskom CEO André de Ruyter. Picture: BRENTON GEACH/GALLO IMAGES

I rushed on Sunday morning to buy a copy of André de Ruyter’s memoir, Truth to Power: My Three Years Inside Eskom, and read it at speed.

Perhaps because of my special interest in the subject, I found some new flesh about the putrefying skeleton of the power entity interesting, but the reek had already pervaded the airwaves. The stink bomb had been dropped in interviews, reports and committees and what we now have is a fast-paced and easily readable addendum to turgid affidavits, forensic reports and transcripts from parliamentary committees.

It’s worth a read. Not least because the points it addresses affect every aspect of the lives of people, businesses, industry and the pulse of the economy.

After traversing the journey that led him to accept the literally poisoned chalice, after addressing his detractors vis á vis his past corporate performance at a length, which began to sound a touch like special pleading, and his patriotic calling which prompted him to accept the job of CEO at a salary of some R7m per annum — the total guaranteed package fees paid across the JSE shows that the median salary for CEOs was R5.71m  over the period 2022 — he embarks on speaking truth to power, as the book’s title promises.

Before opening up the sewers that reside in Eskom, we’re treated to a variety of clichéd buzzwords of management speak which he calls AdRisms: Boots on the Ground, Leaders Eat Last, Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast, a Clean Plant is a Safe Plant, and Shit or Get off the Pot — including an almost unpronounceable acronym called ZIISCE, consisting of Zero Harm, Integrity, Innovation, Sinobuntu, Customer Care and Excellence.

To be fair he does go on to detail how “Eskom operates in an ecosystem of competing and sometimes conflicting policy directions, driven by different ministers and their agendas”.

He covers and details issues of delinquent municipalities, the procurement nightmares, crooked cadres, corruption, scams, milking middlemen, general malfeasance, ineptitude and sabotage with an agenda — a metaphor for much of the state sector which has hollowed out the fiscus and entrenched a culture and a modus operandi that says: you can steal as long as you give unto Caesar what is due to him.

He outlines the steps he took — advising the board and his meddling minister as well as senior apparatchiks in the criminal and security services — all to little or no avail. He takes several swipes at President Cyril Ramaphosa’s vacillation in the face of crises and doesn’t shy away from gratuitous sideswipes about the president’s taste in home and décor.

Much of this — though by no means all — is old hat and certainly known by informed parties. But it’s valuable in that it is a coalescence of new and older information in one diatribe that paints a bleak and accurate picture of the mess we’re in and the pitfalls we face. As he puts it so plainly: “We are f***ed. Maybe.”

But then he gives vent to his hobby horse, which he unashamedly and tellingly calls The Green Gospel. This evangelical foray is a trifle misplaced as his brief was clear: run and fix what’s wrong in Eskom. Matters of policy belong in another departure lounge — above his not inconsiderable paygrade.

The description of the failures he encountered at operational, political and financial levels in the utility should have been enough for most people to connect the dots — to use his minister’s favourite phrase. At times he does precisely that, when he describes Pravin Gordhan’s instruction to reject the offer — on the basis of race — of 72 experienced and qualified Eskom pensioners who had offered to return to work “to do their bit to help solve the energy crisis”.

He goes on to detail how he gave Gordhan and senior police officers chapter and verse about the criminal syndicates operating with impunity in Mpumalanga.

He would probably have been more factually and doctrinally correct had he not sought fit to comment on the labour theory of value and control over the means of production by the proletariat. He’s good when he sticks to his knitting; less so when he assumes the role of public intellectual.

He provides insight into how Ramaphosa “cut the Gwedian knot”, as he put it, by presenting a plan to the nation which Roger Baxter, CEO of the Minerals Council, described as “the most significant structural reform of the past decade”. De Ruyter might, however, have met Mantashe half way by conceding that there was a trade-off to be had between plans for the future and a commitment to ending load-shedding in the present.

De Ruyter has — on balance — done SA proud with this exposé of a company at the centre of life and the economy, beset by big issues such as diesel theft, “black sites” where coal is switched and myriad procurement scams ranging from the sublime to the ridiculousness of a mop costing R200,000 and knee pads ordered at R80,000 a pop. It’s a tale of miscreants and mafias who have hollowed out and broken the nation’s energy supply in a company that was the world’s envy two decades ago.

While he correctly fingers the weak underbelly of big business, which pulled the plug on ongoing funding for key investigations, why he still stops short of disclosing unambiguously the two ministers who he says are complicit in the malfeasance is beyond me. Surely the legal counsel at his disposal could have crafted a way to effect such disclosure? But then we’re talking about a man who was poisoned with cyanide by agents of the criminal bosses at the very heart of government he falls short of exposing.

In any event, I think we all know who they are.

• Cachalia, an MP, is DA public enterprises spokesperson.

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