Ramaphosa concerned about attempts on Buhlungu, De Ruyter’s lives

09 January 2023 - 22:25
By Andisiwe Makinana
President Cyril Ramaphosa has said he and public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan had given former Eskom CEO André de Ruyter their full support.
Image: Freddy Mavunda. President Cyril Ramaphosa has said he and public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan had given former Eskom CEO André de Ruyter their full support.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has expressed concern about recent attempts on the lives of outgoing Eskom CEO André de Ruyter and of Fort Hare vice-chancellor Prof Sakhela Buhlungu.

“It is concerning that those who have taken strong positions on issues of integrity and corruption may well be victims or targeted. That is concerning, and I commiserate with them,” said Ramaphosa on Monday.

He said he would be speaking to Buhlungu “in a day or so”, and that higher education minister Blade Nzimande will be in the Eastern Cape to see the vice-chancellor and a number of role players.

On Friday night, Mboneli Vesele, Buhlungu’s protector was gunned down outside Buhlungu’s home in Dikeni (Alice), Eastern Cape.

In the wake of Vesele’s murder, Buhlungu told TimesLIVE that he believed the assailant or assailants who killed his protector were targeting him as well. He called on Ramaphosa to ensure his safety.

It is believed that Buhlungu is targeted because he has been cleaning up corruption at the university.

Speaking to journalists on Monday, Ramaphosa said: “I am concerned and as you correctly say, some of these people have been leading the charge against corruption and you can see it evokes reactions in some ways. I have no proof of that; that still needs to be verified.”

“I should say that there are people who often come under threat and professor Buhlungu is one of those. He had a personal protector and the attack that was levelled against his protector could well have been aimed against him as well,” said Ramaphosa.

He said he was also aware of Eskom managers who were facing similar threats.

“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.

“That goes to show you the threat that some of the people we deploy live under.”

Ramaphosa said the government protects those whose lives get threatened because of the work they do.

“You asked the question ‘do we protect, yes we do’. Once a threat has been made against somebody who is doing valuable work,” he said.

“We don’t leave the people who become vulnerable or come under threat all on their own. At times, maybe we get it wrong, that happens maybe because we didn’t pay full attention, but generally people who need protection, we do protect,” he said.

De Ruyter filed an attempted murder charge after an alleged attempt on his life. He told journalists he had opened a criminal case after doctors found cyanide in his blood.

News24 reported De Ruyter was allegedly poisoned last month, shortly before his resignation was officially announced.

According to reports De Ruyter became fell ill after drinking a cup of coffee at Eskom’s offices in Sunninghill. He collapsed after vomiting, shaking and being unable to walk. His bodyguards took him to a clinic near the Megawatt office park.

A doctor diagnosed De Ruyter as suffering from cyanide poisoning. A cyanide acid level of about 15 micrograms per litre of blood is considered normal, while the level in De Ruyter’s blood was 41.31 micrograms per litre.

Meanwhile, Ramaphosa sought to defend the support that government gave to Eskom under De Ruyter. When the news of De Ruyter’s resignation broke last month, some criticised Ramaphosa and public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan for not providing critical government support to the Eskom boss.

But Ramaphosa told journalists that Gordhan’s key focus has been Eskom and other enterprises, which demonstrated that there is political support manifesting itself through continuous engagements and meetings.

Ramaphosa said he had also met De Ruyter “and I have given him the support that he needs”.

“I’ve met him with a number of other power station managers and given them our overwhelming support.

“I would say that a coin always has two sides — may be three sides because there is a rim of the coin as well — one has to look at the totality of what anyone has to say,” he said.