WHISTLEBLOWERS and anti-corruption lobbyists have called for former Eskom CEO André de Ruyter’s protection from any form of harm and for his allegations about criminal activities at the state-owned power utility to be thoroughly investigated.
De Ruyter has enraged the Eskom board government officials by going public and even wring a book titled “Truth to Power: My Three Years Inside Eskom” about criminal activities that he encountered at the helm at Eskom.
During a press briefing this week, Eskom chairperson Mpho Makwana chastised De Ruyter saying he broke the trust between himself and his former employer “in the most repulsive manner”.
However, Corruption Watch executive director Karam Singh said De Ruyter should be given a whistleblower status and protection “given his various disclosures around criminal activity at Eskom.”
“As far as we understand, there has already been one attempt to poison him.
“De Ruyter has shared key information which required follow-up by law enforcement to try and understand who is responsible for the corruption and criminal activity taking place at Eskom,” said Singh.
He said threats on De Ruyter were a sign that whistleblowers were not safe in South Africa.
“If action is taken against him as a result of his disclosures, it sends the wrong message to officials who seek to go public with information of wrongdoing and corruption may have a chilling effect,” said Singh.
Makwana told the media during Eskom’s State of the System briefing on Thursday that De Ruyter had broken numerous laws by using his book to expose corruption.
“In the course of publishing this book, transgressions were carried out by an executive who was in a fiduciary position, who was in possession of proprietary information of a national key point,” he said.
Makwana’s statement came a day after Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan had also accused De Ruyter of having breached “Clause 15 in his contract that he signed when he was employed as CEO”, which bound him to confidentiality in terms of the affairs of the institution.
“In no big institution like Eskom and the private sector, would you have a CEO who has left for whatever reason going and writing chapter and verse about events that have been taking place within the company itself?” Gordhan reportedly told Parliament.
A report released after De Ruyter’s investigation of Eskom was allegedly messed up by the revelation that the George Fivaz Forensic and Risk (GFFR), headed by former police commissioner George Fivaz, had included Tony Oosthuizen in the team. According to News24, Oosthuizen was a key member of an apartheid-era secret military intelligence spy unit.
Although whistleblower Thabiso Zulu, who together with former ANC Youth League secretary-general Sindiso Magaqa, who was murdered in 2017, exposed tender irregularities at the Mthimkhulu Municipality in KwaZulu-Natal, accused De Ruyter of being clumsy because of the way he handled sensitive information about Eskom corruption, he said he should be protected.
“Mr De Ruyter has made some tactical blunders himself which do not only assist those who want to crucify and discredit him for their failures of playing an oversight role in arresting the rot at Eskom.
“He should have gone straight to the police as dictated for by acts that govern public funds and that are stipulated in criminal procedure ie Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act,” said Zulu.
Zulu said De Ruyter was ill-advised to use a book to expose corruption as this gave ammunition to “ever ready voices that are trigger happy to suppress any person who says any word ‘corruption’.
“Whether he is a whistleblower or not, he still needs protection and his tips on fraud and corruption be followed,” said Zulu.
However, Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse CEO Wayne Duvenage said De Ruyter should be embraced as a whistleblower instead of being condemned.
“Pravin, Kgosientsho Ramokgopa (electricity minister) and Gwede Mantashe (mineral resources and energy minister) constantly berate the individual as opposed to saying we’re going to deal with corruption and embrace him and work with him.
“He should be protected and taken more seriously. He has the information that is critical and they should not be ignoring what he says,” said Duvenage.
Social worker and justice monitor, working with whistleblowers, John Clarke who teamed up with Amadiba community members in the Xolobeni rural village of Mbizana in the Eastern Cape in resisting titanium mining on the Wild Coast supported De Ruyter.
“Those of us who are concerned about the truth speak truth to power and we experience retaliation.
“He (De Ruyter) is the witness bearer and the thing about witness bearers is that when the state fails to act on disclosures that are made about wrongdoings, the burden rests with the person who is making the disclosure.
“If the state was genuinely concerned about cleaning up corruption, they would have two-and-half years ago made changes in the Whistleblower Protection Act and the whistleblowers would not have to jump from one place to another to hide,” said Clarke.
De Ruyter resigned from Eskom late last year ahead of the end of his term of office and left the country in fear of his life alleging that the state had failed to protect him.