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Middle-Man-Scams Cost Money and Lives

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Middle-Man-Scams Cost Money and Lives

Just in case you’ve been living on Mars for the past decade or so, and wondered about that dark patch at the bottom end of Africa, it is because Eskom continues to keep us in the dark, literally and figuratively. We really don’t know what to believe anymore!

The power situation is so bad that the apps we use to try to make sense of rolling blackouts should tell us when the power is going to be on, rather than off.

Loadshedding, as much as we all grumble about it, is here to stay and the mosquito-like buzz of generators is as common and as pleasant as the sound of squawking Hadedas. Usually, Eskom rolls out a ton of excuses for the cause of innumerable power outages; from wet coal (although it hasn’t rained yet) to excess demand and sabotage.

The man at the helm of Eskom, Andre de Ruyter, speaking at the recent News24 “On the Record” event, laid the blame for our power woes squarely on a legacy of corruption, mismanagement and lack of maintenance. This is the ‘mess’ that he has inherited and is trying to fix.

Billions and billions of Rands have been stolen from Eskom’s coffers over the past three decades.

There is a legacy of backhanders and brown envelopes that make it impossible for Eskom to put its money where it is most needed: keeping generating capacity up and making certain the grid can get power to homes and businesses consistently and reliably.

It’s laughable. De Ruyter used an example of corruption in the supply chain, where Eskom was paying R80,000 for a pair of knee pads instead of the going price of R80.

Endemic rot

Middlemen take the mickey by securing deals through their pals, marking products and services up to an untenable level, and then enabling their friends to live lavish lifestyles and drive around in Ferraris. At least we get some comfort knowing that, when the traffic lights go out, the Ferrari driver is also stuck in the traffic jam that he effectively caused.

The recent Zondo Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture, Corruption and Fraud in the Public Sector including Organs of State, led by chief justice Raymond Zondo, found that Eskom had R14 billion of its money stolen through fraud and theft. R14 BILLION!!

This figure could well be higher, but we will never know unless further investigations are done by the prosecuting authorities. The rot keeps spreading because junior staff see senior employees taking bribes and think it’s ok for them to do the same, and thus the rot spreads.

Scarily, this is just the tip of the iceberg. The embattled power utility is R396 billion in debt and needs another R45 billion in financing to get the lights back on. Am I the only one thinking that any additional funds given to Eskom, just risk going down the same drain unless corruption at all levels is rooted out?

In April, the Zondo Commission stated that former Eskom executives, Matshela Koko and Anoj Singh, should be criminally prosecuted for allowing the Gupta family to buy Optimum coal mine using Eskom money.

Five months later, Koko is seeking to sell solar energy in Zimbabwe, having escaped debt review. The good news, at least, is that Singh and former Transnet CEO Brian Molefe were arrested in August and are unfortunately out on bail. Transnet, too, was a victim of state capture. Well, we’ll wait and see what happens there, although not with much optimism.

Where to from here?

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), the Special Investigating Unit, and the South African Police service all need to act and put these people behind bars. There’s more than enough evidence to do so.

Government, too, needs to put its money where its mouth is and provide these vital entities with enough cash for them to be efficient and effective so that we can start seeing some blue sky behind the dark clouds of corruption.

We also need to offer whistleblowers better protection.

Tembisa Hospital’s Babita Deokaran flagged nearly R850 million in dubious payments and was killed for it. The internal probe into the theft was wrapped up in less than a week, while auditors were pulled out on the day she was murdered.

This does not bode well for the National Health Insurance Plan which is supposed to ensure that millions of South Africans who rely on public health care get equitable treatment.  This plan has been hamstrung because there is simply not enough money to fund it.

Thankfully, Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana – considering Zondo’s findings – saw fit to increase funding for the NPA and the police, allowing for the recruitment of 90 staff members at the Investigating Directorate and 12,000 trainee constables.

The government’s prosecuting arm, along with the Financial Intelligence Centre, received a budget increase of R426 million between 2022 and 2025. This is aimed at ensuring “sufficient capacity for the investigation and prosecution of criminal cases emanating from the state capture commission,” according to the budget review tabled to coincide with the minister’s speech.

However, there is no doubt that this is too little, too late. Maybe we’ll have more good news in the Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement, due to be released on 26 October.

That, however, is unlikely because the government is pretty much broke. You can only keep funding the lavish lifestyles of the corrupt for so long before the coffers run dry.

If the rot can be stopped there will be enough money, but the ongoing corruption and lack of jobs will see more and more South Africans turn to the dark side (excuse the pun).

How do we fix this mess?