Pretoria — More than 20 months after taking power, South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa’s “New Dawn” may be making an appearance.
The clearest indicators of the post-corruption era promised by Ramaphosa when president Jacob Zuma was removed from power in 2018 has been a spate of arrests.
The developments came this week as former executives of state-owned power-producer Eskom, along with their accomplices, appeared in court on fraud, corruption and money-laundering charges amounting to about $52 million.
A fifth person is in the UK where extradition will be sought.
The prosecution says the executives received more than $2 million in kickbacks. Besides the two managers charged and freed on bail until the case resumes in May, more arrests are imminent, said Hangwani Mulaudzi, spokesperson for the premier crime investigations unit – the Hawks.
He confirmed investigations are ongoing but resisted giving details.
The arrests are not the first but are so far the highest profile prosecutions at Africa’s largest electricity producer, which unfortunately is much-indebted and unable to operate profitably.
Investigations leading to the arrests were prompted by suspicions raised about the construction of Medupi and Kusile coal-fired power stations.
The two have become the most expensive coal-fired builds in the world. Eskom said it would cooperate with the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) and the Hawks “to root out corruption and malfeasance” at the power utility.
“While we observe the principle of presumption of innocence until proved guilty, Eskom will leave no stone unturned in ensuring the perpetrators of corruption are brought to book,” it said.
The SIU said the arrests featured multi-agency collaboration. The investigations revealed other irregularities and at least 16 related matters have been referred to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), which had been rendered toothless during the Zuma era.
There is evidence that the state is recovering its ability to deal with corruption, including the arrest of a former Mayor of Durban, Africa’s largest port.
The Eskom arrests follow others of less note at the utility where more than 1,000 disciplinary cases have led to many people being booted out of the staff-heavy parastatal which is weighing down the economy of the country due to its $32 billion debt.
A recent round of outages lasting about two weeks caused yet another setback to Ramaphosa’s efforts to get the country back on track and working properly.
In all likelihood, South Africa will end 2019 on a recessionary note, as a result mainly of Eskom’s ageing fleet’s inability to keep operating.
There are numerous corruption cases under investigations. This was revealed by Hermione Cronje, head of the NPA’s recently created investigative unit, designed to help police bring complex fraud and financial misconduct schemes to conviction.
The increasingly aggressive moves on high-profile persons by investigators reflect Ramaphosa’s stronger position compared to when he took over from Zuma.
With pro-Zuma elements since removed from the ruling ANC’s executive body following a “clean-up”, Ramaphosa is strong enough to move against corrupt elements even high up in the African National Congress.
Institutions like the Hawks and the NPA have begun to recover from being “captured” and are actually doing their job.
The ANC leader was initially hampered by factionalism rending the ruling party in the wake of his assumption of its top job.
With something like 45 supporters out of a national executive of 86, Ramaphosa has a clear majority – though the executive never actually votes on issues, preferring to preserve the semblance of a united party by adopting “consensus” decisions.
The wave of arrests and bigger wave of investigations represent for some the promised “New Dawn”, which is way overdue and welcome after a difficult and disheartening period.
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