Durban – Despite objections from some unions mobilising within the state-owned power utility, the Eskom board has pressed ahead with appointing a top advocate to probe allegations of racism and power abuse against its chief executive, André de Ruyter.
On Thursday morning, the board, led by Prof Malegapuru Makgoba announced it had appointed top lawyer advocate Ishmael Semenya SC (senior counsel) to conduct the probe.
The decision stems from allegations raised by Eskom's suspended chief procurement officer, Solly Tshitangano, who early last month claimed De Ruyter was elbowing out black suppliers in favour of white suppliers. He further alleged De Ruyter was doing that by bypassing normal procurement processes.
In the statement announcing Semenya’s appointment, the board said to establish the veracity and the basis of the allegation of racism and abuse of power, the top lawyer was free to request any information he would deem helpful to him.
“The board has requested advocate Ishmael Semenya SC, which he has accepted, to conduct the independent inquiry, and, upon completion, to issue written findings and recommendations as soon as reasonably possible. Advocate Semenya has also been requested to make recommendations to be pursued by the Board against any specific individuals if any wrongdoing is found.
“Advocate Semenya is free to request and to receive Eskom documents, and to consult with any witnesses deemed relevant and necessary for the purposes of this inquiry. The Board requests that advocate Semenya be given space to conduct the investigation unhindered, to enable him to complete the inquiry and issue his report at his earliest possible convenience,” the board said.
When the board first publicly indicated its intention to probe the allegations, the Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) objected, saying this was an attempt to sidestep a credible one which was proposed by Scopa (Standing Committee on Public Accounts) when the allegations surfaced.
At that time (March 9, 2021), Phakamile Hlubi-Majola, whose union has significant members who are working for the power utility, said the current Eskom board has a history of ordering investigations not to get to the bottom of a matter, but to clear its favoured executives.
She cited last year’s report which cleared Eskom’s chief operating officer (COO) Jan Oberholzer of various allegations relating to corruption, dishonesty and abuse of power.
Oberholzer was accused of conflict of interest when he allegedly failed to disclose his shareholding at Steffanuti Stocks, a company doing business with Eskom and which he once worked for.
“We want to make it clear as Numsa that we don’t have much faith in the actions that the board are currently taking, we have more faith in what Scopa is proposing and the enquiry that Scopa is proposing. We say this because the same board was very quick to whitewash Oberholzer in relation to the Steffanuti investigations … We expect another whitewash process in what’s being announced now. It’s very clear that this board is determined to support a failed GCEO,” Hlubi-Majola said at the time.