South Africa: Eskom CEO victim of alleged poisoning

By Jaysim Hanspal
Posted on Monday, 9 January 2023 17:04

Andre de Ruyter, Group Chief Executive of state-owned power utility Eskom speaks during a media briefing in Johannesburg, South Africa, January 31, 2020. REUTERS/Sumaya Hisham

South African electricity utility Eskom said on Sunday police are investigating an alleged attempt to poison outgoing Chief Executive Officer Andre de Ruyter.

The businessman is suspected to have been poisoned through a cup of coffee laced with cyanide in the company’s Megawatt Park in Sandton. The poisoning took place within days of the CEO’s resignation submission on 14 December.

His last day in office will be 31 March.

“Eskom cannot comment further on the poisoning incident involving the Group Chief Executive, which occurred during December 2022, as the matter is subject to police investigation. A criminal complaint has been laid at the Hermanus Police Station under CAS 82/1/2023” says Karen Pillay, Eskom’s Head of Security when asked for comment. The complaint has been transferred to the Midrand Police Station, Eskom said.

Failure to launch

De Ruyter resigned after trying to overhaul the company, which is currently facing scrutiny over environmental damage and a global energy crisis stemming from the conflict in Ukraine.

Vuslat Bayoglu, managing director of mining investment company Menar, previously told The Africa Report that de Ruyter’s principal failure as CEO stemmed from focusing too much on renewable energy and failing to make a steady transition from coal.

This policy led to record power cuts in South Africa, the continent’s most industrialised economy.

Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe also had harsh words for the CEO, saying, “Any other government can be overthrown for this level of load shedding. Eskom, by not attending to load shedding, is agitating for the overthrow of the state. If it is not addressed, then the state will be failing to do what it needs to do… load shedding is urgent; it must be attended to sooner than later.”

He added, “we’re engaging with Eskom more aggressively and telling them to get investment into the grid as quickly as possible… energy is always used as a factor that attracts investment into the economy”.

Corruption at large

After officially starting his role in January 2020, De Ruyter led a company-wide clampdown on corruption and organised criminal behaviour, including sabotage of infrastructure at Eskom plants.

Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan told Reuters the alleged incident “will be thoroughly investigated” and anyone responsible charged, blaming a schism “between those who want South Africa to work and thrive and those who want to corruptly enrich themselves”.

Gordhan has also previously spoken out about what he called a “coal mafia”. “The damage caused by the corrupt practises is among the factors that last month drove Eskom to deepen power cuts to the worst level in almost two years”, he said at the time.

The opposition Democratic Alliance is calling on President Cyril Ramaphosa’s intervention following the incident to investigate the allegations further.

The attempt has led to criticism by many suggesting that this case is being unusually spotlighted compared to previous cases. However, the attempt remains to be completely speculative with little to no comment from the South African Police Service and Eskom themselves.

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