Cyril Ramaphosa is due to reshuffle his cabinet in the coming days and appoint an electricity minister to tackle rolling blackouts in South Africa as his government confronts allegations that it knew senior officials were involved in corruption at the Eskom power monopoly.
South Africans have been waiting a month for the president to appoint a minister to co-ordinate a response to power cuts of up to 12 hours a day that his government has declared a national disaster.
But the announcement has been clouded by a crisis over allegations that Eskom’s former chief executive told senior officials that coal power stations at the heart of the crisis were being ransacked by crime cartels and politicians of Ramaphosa’s African National Congress were implicated.
The ANC is still reeling from a claim by André de Ruyter in a television interview last week that he told government that at least one high-level politician had been involved in looting Eskom. De Ruyter was immediately removed as chief executive in the fallout, a month before he was due to leave the utility.
South African media have since reported that two ministers were implicated by a private probe into the sabotage of power stations. None has so far been named. Ramaphosa and other ministers have called for de Ruyter to report his allegations directly to the police.
On Friday, the ANC said that it had served de Ruyter with court papers to demand answers from him, stopping short of a threat last week to report him to police for not going to the authorities.
South Africa’s News24 said on Friday that Sydney Mufamadi, Ramaphosa’s national security adviser, received reports of alleged Eskom corruption from de Ruyter, including the names of officials, last year.
Mufamadi “was never given any names of people involved in corruption at Eskom”, Ramaphosa’s spokesperson told the Financial Times on Friday.
Ramaphosa was aware of the criminal syndicate threat to Eskom but “what the president is not aware of is knowledge of names of individuals alleged to be involved in corruption at Eskom”, the spokesperson added.
On Friday John Steenhuisen, leader of the main opposition Democratic Alliance, called on the president “to brief the nation and to come clean on exactly what he knew about the corrupt cartels sabotaging Eskom and bleeding the utility dry.”
The DA has demanded a parliamentary investigation into the affair. “The nation has a right to know who these implicated ministers are, especially ahead of the long-awaited cabinet reshuffle,” Steenhuisen said.
David Mabuza, South Africa’s deputy president who led a political task team on Eskom, resigned this week.
Change at the top of government has been expected since Ramaphosa won re-election as president of the ANC in December. The contest also replaced Mabuza with Paul Mashatile, a powerbroker, as the party’s deputy leader. The occupant of this post usually serves as state deputy president.
Ramaphosa would organise the cabinet reshuffle “based on squaring the ANC’s various factions” in light of the recent party contest, William Gumede, chair of Democracy Works, a civic foundation, said.
“Essentially he is balancing the new reconfigured ANC power structure based on the December elections. That is why it has taken such a long time.”
As a result, Gumede added, South Africans and markets should brace for disappointment over an electricity minister who will join ministers for state companies and energy, the cabinet, the ANC, Eskom’s own board and de Ruyter’s eventual successor in a jumble of oversight over the utility.
“It just shows a lack of decisiveness” by Ramaphosa, he said. Despite fury over the blackouts that might cost the ANC a national election next year for the first time since it won power in 1994, “I don’t think he has the backbone or will to carry out the shock therapy that is needed to fix Eskom ahead of the election,” Gumede added.