- South Africa’s energy sector has been rocked by the poisoning of the CEO of its biggest provider.
- Eskom’s CEO Andre De Ruyter had been leading a crackdown on corruption in South African energy.
- South Africa’s president said this week that some managers in the sector wear bulletproof vests to work.
Staff working for South Africa’s biggest energy provider, Eskom, sometimes take drastic steps to protect themselves, the country’s president said this week after it emerged that the company’s CEO had been poisoned with cyanide amid a crackdown on corruption.
Speaking to reporters this week, President Cyril Ramaphosa acknowledged the serious dangers of working at Eskom because of the threat criminal groups pose to the energy firm.
“I know one manager at Eskom who goes about wearing a bulletproof vest to work, who has two stand-in personal protectors at any given time. His wife also has two protectors and his children go to school with protectors as well,” Ramaphosa said in the address without identifying who the manager is, per South Africa’s Times newspaper.
“That goes to show you the threat that some of the people we deploy live under.”
Ramaphosa’s comments came after Eskom’s CEO Andre De Ruyter was poisoned with cyanide slipped into his coffee, just after he had handed in his resignation as chief executive. It is unclear if whoever poisoned De Ruyter knew he had resigned.
De Ruyter was shaking, vomiting, and eventually collapsed, a source told EE Business Intelligence which reported the story first. He survived after being rushed to his doctor by security.
“I have reported the matter to SAPS [the South African Police Service] on 5 January 2023, and the case can be assumed to be under investigation,” De Ruyter told EE Business Intelligence.
De Ruyter has been an outspoken advocate of lessening corruption and rampant criminality in South Africa’s energy sector, speaking to the Financial Times in October about common tactics used by criminal gangs to steal resources, which include looting coal trucks and replacing the coal with rocks.
“There are jammers operating that caused this truck to literally disappear off the radar,” he told the FT. “Good-quality coal gets offloaded, discarded coal gets loaded.”
“One of the reasons why there is this animosity towards renewables is that I think it’s very difficult to steal sun and wind,” he added.
Such thefts, De Ruyter said, have a major impact on the energy available in South Africa, which has faced rolling blackouts in recent years. In 2022, for instance, South Africa had 188 days of power outages, per Bloomberg.
De Ruyters will continue as CEO until March 2023, with the government currently looking for his successor.