South Africa minister denies extensive ANC corruption at power utility, concedes ‘naughty’ few

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By Associated Press

JOHANNESBURG: A senior South African government minister denied Wednesday there was extensive corruption within the ruling African Nations Congress party in relation to the country’s financially-crippled power utility, although he did concede a “few” might have engaged in “naughty activity.”

Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan was answering questions from lawmakers in Parliament at a hearing focusing on the graft at the state-owned national electricity supplier that has contributed to Africa’s most developed country facing a power crisis and daily blackouts. It has raised fears that the electricity supply could collapse.

“You can’t put everything on the shoulders of the ANC,” Gordhan said in relation to what’s accepted as rampant corruption and mismanagement at national electricity company Eskom. “There are within the ANC very honest, dedicated activists who want the public interests to be primary and who want this country to work, and there might be those few who have engaged in, let’s call it naughty activity.”

Gordhan, who was South Africa’s finance minister from 2015-17, was appearing before a multi-party oversight committee following serious allegations made by former Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter, who said in a television interview in February that the ANC and high-ranking politicians were involved in the corruption.

The ANC said it would sue de Ruyter for defamation and has demanded that he retract the claims.

De Ruyter didn’t name the politicians allegedly involved when he was questioned by lawmakers over the issue last month, and Gordhan said Wednesday he didn’t know who de Ruyter was referring to. Gordhan said while widespread allegations of corruption at Eskom weren’t unfounded, some of de Ruyter’s claims were simply used to downplay his own shortcomings at his job.

Eskom is more than $20 billion in debt and has been forced to cut electricity to South Africa’s businesses and its 60 million people, sometimes for up to 12 hours a day. It has become the focal point for criticism of the ANC, which has for years faced allegations of involvement in corruption, especially in state-run companies like Eskom.

The ANC is the party of the late Nelson Mandela and the only party to have governed South Africa since the end of apartheid in 1994, although its popularity has steadily decreased and it faces national elections next year where its outright majority could be under threat.

While accepting that there were links to the ANC amid the graft at Eskom, Gordhan said there were also a number of private South African and multinational companies “that were stealing from Eskom, to put it in plain and simple terms.”

“Eskom is not just a feeding trough for the ANC, as the former CEO alleges,” Gordhan said.

Gordhan’s appearance in Parliament came a day after Eskom sought to allay fears of a total collapse of the country’s electricity supply as concerns grow over the rolling blackouts, which have become longer and more regular, further hurting South Africa’s already struggling economy.

Eskom said in a statement Monday that it had measures in place to avoid a total national blackout amid fears that if South Africa’s electricity grid does go down, it could take days or weeks for the supply to return, shutting down the stock exchange, banks and other critical institutions.

But energy analyst Chris Yelland said there was a “low probability” that the national grid might collapse completely.

“Eskom has detailed plans on how to prevent a national blackout, and how to recover from a national blackout,” Yelland said. “Plans that are tested regularly. Even though they may be low probability events, one has to plan for it. It’s prudent.”

Various government estimates put the cost of the power blackouts to the country’s economy at around $52 million a day. The South African Reserve Bank has revised the economy’s growth forecast for 2023 from 1.1% to 0.3% because of the power disruptions.