Eskom's legal boss 'questioned' De Ruyter's immediate firing after TV interview

20 June 2023 - 21:55
By Andisiwe Makinana
Andre de Ruyter on the cover of his book.
Image: Supplied Andre de Ruyter on the cover of his book.

Eskom's group executive responsible for legal affairs and compliance Mel Govender says she questioned the company’s fairness in terminating former CEO André de Ruyter's employment after his explosive interview with eNCA in February.

Govender said she was told one of the grounds for De Ruyter’s immediate dismissal was that he had brought the organisation into disrepute. She questioned this because in her view, there was that nothing in the interview that brought Eskom into disrepute.

Govender told parliament’s standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) on Tuesday that issues De Ruyter addressed in the interview with Annika Larsen regarding coal theft, criminal conduct in Mpumalanga, the bottlenecks within Eskom and resistance by Eskom employees were not new to Eskom.

“Maybe the detail regarding the mafias and the level of criminality taking place [was new], but even then she did not see how it brought the company into disrepute, she said.

“I questioned the fairness, I questioned what was actually said that has brought Eskom into disrepute because the risks that had been highlighted were not news to Eskom, and so I questioned what exactly has brought the organisation into disrepute.

“I also questioned the manner in which it was implemented, it happened very fast and perhaps in hindsight, it could have taken a while longer,” she said.

Taking longer could have helped Eskom to get a copy of report and ensure a proper handover for the new CEO, among other things, she said.

“I think the fastness led to decisions that we are now paying for, so perhaps if a different approach was followed, we’d have a copy of the report by now and working on that instead.”

Govender’s other concern related to how Eskom employees would view De Ruyter’s “very quick exit which was literally overnight” and whether it would impact on the attempts to get buy-in from them in terms of using a whistle-blower hotline and other mechanisms put in place in the fight against fraud and corruption. It could have been perceived as an “if I raise these types of issues am I now going to be targeted”.

She said she was not consulted for legal advice before De Ruyter’s immediate dismissal. The opportunity to review De Ruyter’s interview with eNCA only came after his departure from Eskom.

Govender said she did not think Eskom and parliament should be pursuing De Ruyter, instead they should focus on recovering losses and improving governance controls. While there was a breach of process, she struggled to accept this brought the company into disrepute, she said.

“That is not where we should be focusing our attention from a legal perspective, I am not saying there is no legal claim to be made ... we have considered this and based on the facts that we have, it actually serves no purpose to pursue this legal avenue”.

ANC MP Bheki Hadebe asked: “Are you saying as a group executive (for) legal and compliance, Eskom and parliament shouldn’t pursue the conduct of De Ruyter and only focus on what he said in his book and in his interview?”

“That would be my view,” replied Govender. “If we are going to be expending legal costs here, I think there’s a better direction in terms of which those costs could be incurred.”

Govender confirmed that Eskom had sought a copy the intelligence report that De Ruyter commissioned last year. The report has been requested from the SIU.

Eskom has also spoken to former police commissioner George Fivaz, whose forensic company conducted the investigation.

She said an external legal firm has also been appointed to assist with some of the allegations made by De Ruyter.

Govender indicated that she too was leaving Eskom at the end of this month and the manner in which the company treated De Ruyter's departure contributed to her decision to leave.

Eskom chair Mpho Makwana told Scopa last month that De Ruyter “had to go” as his bombshell interview brought the company into disrepute.

The day after the interview, De Ruyter, who was serving three months’ notice after resigning, was released from his duties with immediate effect.